by Rex Teodosio and Seth Hakes.
The United States and China are clashing on several policy issues especially relating to economy and trade. Yet, when leaders of the two countries get together, there is one thing that never gets mentioned: the persecution of the underground Catholic Church in China.
China’s underground Catholics are in the midst of a new phase of their decades-long persecution. They are being ignored by human rights commissions, governments and even by the Vatican. No one wants to talk about this most brutal persecution.
The roots of the Catholic persecution in China began with Mao Zedong, former Chairman of the Communist Party of China. When his party took complete dominance in 1949, Catholic clergy were jailed, missionaries forced out and churches destroyed. Chairman Mao’s initial effort to eradicate Catholicism was not successful. So, in 1957, the Communist Party established its own church called the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which began consecrating bishops selected by the Association.
Pope Pius XII on Communism and the Church in China
“We teach, . . . We declare that the Roman Church by the Providence of God holds the primacy of ordinary power over all others, and that this power of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which is truly episcopal, is immediate. Toward it, the pastors and the faithful of whatever rite and dignity, both individually and collectively, are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in matters which pertain to faith and morals, but also in those which concern the discipline and government of the Church spread throughout the whole world, in such a way that once the unity of communion and the profession of the same Faith has been preserved with the Roman Pontiff, there is one flock of the Church of Christ under one supreme shepherd. This is the teaching of the Catholic truth from which no one can depart without loss of faith and salvation.” (Vatican Council, session IV, chap. 3; Coll. Lac., Vll, p.484.)
Pope Pius XII, Encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis, No. 46.
In response, Pope Pius XII published his encyclical Ad Apostolorum Principis on June 29, 1958 decrying the persecution of the Faith in China. The pope imposed automatic excommunication on any Catholic bishop who consecrated bishops for the CPCA, as well as anyone receiving this irresponsibly conferred consecration. Since that time, the persecution Pope Pius XII condemned has continued unabated.
Many think, however, that the economic loosening up in China has seen a similar loosening toward religion. This is not happening. Just two years ago, the government demolished statues depicting biblical scenes at a Catholic pilgrimage site in Wenzhou. A little over a year ago, a 94-year-old bishop died in prison. Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang spent half of his life in forced labor and jail—47 years of enslavement. He was last seen sixteen years ago when he “disappeared” on Good Friday, April 13, 2001 and is now reported dead.
Unable to suppress the Catholic Church, the communist regime is trying to force all Catholics to submit to government-approved churches, serviced by government-approved priests and bishops, preaching government-approved teachings. The core issue is that the underground Catholics are faithful to the Holy Apostolic See and the patriotic “Catholics” are faithful to Beijing. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is under absolute control of China’s communist government. The underground Catholics can never renounce the authority of the Roman Pontiff, their devotions and the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ—all of which Beijing rejects.
The Vatican Policy of Détente with Communist Governments – Should the TFPs Stand Down? Or Should They Resist?
Recently, the Vatican claimed it is near to closing on making a deal with the CPCA. This deal would apparently legitimize and recognize the authority of all bishops consecrated under the authority of the CPCA. If this is the case, this would effectively eliminate the sanction of excommunication promulgated by Pius XII.
Understandably, Joseph Cardinal Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong, is wary of any deal with Beijing. In February, LifeSiteNews1 reported that the Bishop Emeritus has accused the Vatican of “betraying underground Church in China” by pursuing a deal with the communist government.
Underground Catholics have a long list of grievances against the Patriotic Association and its master in Beijing. This includes the imprisonment of hundreds of priests and bishops, the destruction of Catholic churches for adhering fidelity to the Holy See, the demolishing of Catholic shrines and monuments, and the infiltration of Association spies into Catholic communities for the purpose of betraying them to the government, leading to direct persecution.
The United Kingdom’s The Guardian2 reports Cardinal Zen saying, “Maybe the pope is a little naive” in his assessment of the situation. “[H]e may not know the Communist persecutors who have killed hundreds of thousands,” said the cardinal.
If such a deal goes through, it will put underground Catholics in a grave dilemma. Should they, in order to obey the Roman Pontiff, submit to Beijing? Or should they abandon their decades-long struggle to preserve their Faith and sacred tradition, and integrate with the Patriotic Association? Should they, ultimately, conform to the ambiguous beliefs of the Patriotic Church even when they are contrary to the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ?
The Chinese government’s record is not very encouraging. There is the suppression of free speech in Hong Kong, the looming threat over Taiwan, the longstanding labor abuses and other human rights issues—all showing bad faith. For the persecuted underground Catholics, this deal, or any other, will be like making a pact with the devil.
- Claire Chretien, LifeSiteNews, “EXCLUSIVE: Cardinal Zen says ‘naïve’ Pope and bad advisors are betraying underground Church in China” Feb 21, 2017, at https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/interview-cardinal-zen-begs-vatican-not-to-sell-out-to-chinese-govt, accessed May 1, 2017. See also Catholic Herald “Cardinal Zen: I fear Vatican will sell out China’s underground Church” Feb. 22, 2017 at http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/02/22/cardinal-zen-i-fear-vatican-will-sell-out-chinas-underground-church/, accessed May 1, 2017.
- Benjamin Haas and Tom Phillips, The Guardian, “Pope’s possible deal with China would ‘betray Christ’, says Hong Kong cardinal” November 27, 2016, at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/28/pope-china-vatican-deal-would-betray-christ-says-former-hong-kong-bishop accessed May 1, 2017.