The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) will celebrate 50 years on August 2.
Some 5,000 people have been invited for the occasion, but quite a few of the would-be guests will find the right excuse or the courage not to go.
In the meantime, both official and underground bishops, priests and faithful are under tighter controls, which shows the uniqueness of the Chinese Church, as Pope Benedict XVI himself recognised in his Letter to Chinese Catholics.
This is not a good time for the powerful CPCA. Created by the Religious Affairs Bureau of the People’s Republic for the purpose of introducing party ideals into the Catholic Church, it can now boast more than 3,000 secretaries, deputy secretaries and bureau chiefs, plus many more office workers.
All these people are in charge of about 5 million Catholic members of the official Church. They appoint bishops, give “advice” as to who should be priests, evaluate male and female vocations for seminaries and convents, and supervise diocesan administrations.
In such a supervisory role they have often been accused by underground Catholics of pilfering diocesan property on their own behalf and that of public and private firms and businessmen.
But for Catholics loyal to the Pope, the CPCA is the “enemy”.
In his recent letter Benedict XVI unequivocally condemned the association. Explicitly mentioned only in a footnote (nº 36), the CPCA is treated as one of those “entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church,” which placed “themselves above the Bishops [. . .] to guide the life of the ecclesial community,” something which “does not correspond to Catholic doctrine.”
Similarly, the Pope refers to the CPCA when he talks about “persons who are not ‘ordained’, and sometimes not even baptized,” and who “control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of Bishops (nº 8), and when he warns that “[c]ommunion and unity [. . .] are essential and integral elements of the Catholic Church: therefore the proposal for a Church that is ‘independent’ of the Holy See, in the religious sphere, is incompatible with Catholic doctrine” (nº 8).
The Pope’s opposition is based theologically on the notions of communion, hierarchy and Petrine primacy, which clearly contradict a statement made by the CPCA’s strongman, deputy chairman Liu Bainian, a member of the laity who in an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica claimed instead that there was “not a shadow of theological controversy” when he spoke about the relations between the CPCA and the Holy See, going as far as expressing a hope that the Pope might visit Beijing.
A “hope” which yesterday Benedict XVI would not comment. When journalists, who are following the Pope’s period of rest among the mountains of Cadore, broached him on the subject, he limited himself to respond: “I cannot speak on the issue and the moment. The situation is quite complicated and now there is not sufficient time”.
The fact is that there is an ongoing tug of war between the Vatican and AP, despite the open hand of friendship extended to the Chinese government in the form of the Pope’s Letter.
However, should the government opt to normalise relations with the Holy See for whatever reason, Liu Bainian’s head would be the first to roll.
Some 50 years after the People’s Republic set up various religious patriotic associations, such entities have become obsolete.
According to an official study released earlier this year, their influence is waning, limited to only about a third of the 300 million Chinese who are officially classified as members of religions.
Increasingly they are no longer capable of guaranteeing the much vaunted “social harmony” with which President Hu Jintao wants to build a fairer China and achieve a more balanced development.
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