Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ecclesia in Asia

Mentioned here last week, the top-level, supposedly "sub secreto" Vatican summit on China policy has kicked off:
The meeting’s topic will be the situation of the Church in China and relations between the Holy See and the Chinese government. Taking part in the meeting are top figures from the Secretariat of State and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, as well as various figures involved in mission towards China: Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop of Hong Kong; Cardinal Paul Shan, Bishop emeritus of Kaohsiung (Taiwan); Monsignor José Lai Hung-seng, Bishop of Macao. Also taking part from the Hong Kong diocese are Auxiliary Bishop John Tong and Dr Anthony Lam, an expert of the Holy Spirit Study Centre, the diocese's institute of theology and for documentation on China.

AsiaNews sources say that the problem is not so much the long-time impasse on diplomatic relations, but the situation created with the 3 illicit episcopal ordinations which took place during 2006.

These took place in a moment of détente, which had been preceded by a series of positive signals from a Chinese government willing to rebuild diplomatic relations. Not to be forgotten is also the fact that, until then, episcopal ordinations were being carried out on the basis of an unwritten agreement between the government and the Holy See, as had been the case of ordinations in Suzhou, Shanghai, Xian, Wanxian and Shenyang.

The illicit ordinations in Kunming (April 30), Anhui (May 3) and Xuzhou (November 30) instead took place with the heavy-handed involvement of the Patriotic Association (PA) and the Ministry of Religious Affairs. At the latest ordination -- attended by, according to some sources, Liu Bainian, Vice President of the Patriotic Association, and Ye Xiaowen, Director of the Religious Affairs Bureau, who travelled there from Beijing -- the Patriotic Association abducted two bishops to have them preside over the rite, threatened to reduce the candidate and concelebrating bishops to poverty and to take measures against their families if they did not submit to the ceremony; it ensured the participation of the faithful by promising money.

Pressure, threats, blackmail and lies -- in some cases, the PA publicly proclaimed to be in agreement with the Holy See -- were involved also in the other ordinations, to the point that the Holy See spoke out against these operations as a "serious violation of religious freedom."

After all these ordinations, the Chinese Ambassador in Rome went as far as to "apologize" with the Vatican, but the Holy See's problem now is to figure out whether it can trust a government that, on one hand, promises détente, and on the other allows – if not approves – serious violations against human and religious rights....

It is likely that the meetings at the Vatican over the next few days will only give an initial handling to the problems listed here. What is certain – as was confirmed by figures close to the meeting – is the creation of a permanent Commission to deal with the China dossier.
Elsewhere on the Asian beat, the Vietnamese prime minister will be received by Pope Benedict next week in the first-ever papal audience granted a top official of the Communist country. The move is seen as a yet another sign that normalized relations between the Holy See and Vietnam are just around the corner.