Maria Holland

Ten Steps Forward, One Giant Leap Back

In Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I’ve been following the news out of China about the Catholic Church, and most of it this past year has been encouraging.  Recently, the 10th bishop was ordained with papal and government approval.  After years of no ordinations, this seemed like a really positive step in church-government relations

Then I suppose that the most recent ordination can’t be viewed as anything but a giant leap backwards. 

Last weekend, Father Guo JinCai was ordained as the bishop of Chengde, Hebei – illicitly, without papal approval.  This was the first illicit ordination in four years, and the first since Pope Benedict’s letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. 

So much about this news disturbs me.  From the sound of it, it bears no resemblance to any church service I’ve ever attended, in China or elsewhere.  The ceremony was reportedly attended by “more than 100 faithful” – and, because this warrants mention, “about 100 uniformed and plainclothes police”. Security seemed to be an issue, as “cameras were banned in the church and mobile phone signals blocked in the area.”

Most disturbing was the pressure applied to legitimate bishops to participate in the ordination.  The ordination was performed by eight open bishops, who were coerced through house arrest and even taken away by government officials. 


Cardinal Zen, advocate of religious freedom in China, wrote on that topic after the news of the ordination. 

I think it is my duty, given this special opportunity to inform my eminent brothers, that there is still no religious freedom in China. There is too much optimism around something that does not correspond to reality. Some have no way of knowing the reality, others close their eyes to reality, others still see religious freedom in a very simplistic way.

If you were to visit China (which I do not recommend, because your visits will be manipulated and exploited for propaganda purposes), you would see beautiful churches full of people who pray and sing, as in any other city in the Christian world. But religious freedom cannot just be reduced to freedom of worship. It is much more.

An anonymous priest from a diocese of one of the coerced bishops also wrote on “What It Means To Force A Bishop’s Hand”:

Police sealed off the cathedral of Cangzhou (Xianxian) diocese to prevent priests going to save their bishop, who has been taken away to attend the Chengde illicit ordination.  Bishops of Cangzhou (Xianxian), Hengshui (Jingxian) and Baoding have been put under house arrest and pressured to attend Father Joseph Guo Jincai’s ordination since Nov. 11. broke the news on Nov. 17 and since then, almost all media outside mainland China have fixed their focus on the bishops being forced to attend the illicit ordination.

Undeniably they were. But what is implied by the phrase “being forced?”

First, the expression shows sympathy towards the bishops. Second, it suggests they were innocent.

. . . During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), was there anyone who gave up his or her religious belief not because of being forced? How many people were persecuted, with some even sacrificing their precious lives, because they opposed the establishment of an independent Church? The “self-election and self-ordination” of bishops is a principle of the independent Church.

And now it seems that there is no responsibility when one is “being forced.”  . . . If the bishops can do that, then the laypeople can also easily give up their faith when being forced.

After all, we should reflect on which direction the faithful would be guided when media reports emphasize only the pressure brought to bear on them.


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