In Open Letter, Hong Kong Catholics Beg Vatican to Reconsider Deal with China

Chinese Christians pray during a midnight mass on Christmas eve at a church in Beijing, China, Friday, Dec. 24, 2004. Chinese authorities insist that Christians worship only in government-controlled churches. Despite harassment, fines and the possibility of prison, millions of Protestants and Catholics continue to attend unauthorized assemblies, including in …
AP Photo/Str

A group of prominent Catholics in Hong Kong has expressed “shock” and “disappointment” over the Vatican’s reported plans to enter into an agreement with the Chinese government over the appointment of bishops and the status of the state-approved Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Open Letter, described as an initiative of “university professors, lecturers, researchers, human rights activists and lawyers,” is addressed to Catholic bishops across the world and expresses particular concern over the issue of naming bishops, which belongs exclusively to ecclesiastical authority rather than the state.

The seven “illicitly ordained bishops” that the Vatican will reportedly rehabilitate, “were not appointed by the Pope, and their moral integrity is questionable,” the letter states. “They do not have the trust of the faithful, and have never repented publicly. If they were to be recognized as legitimate, the faithful in Greater China would be plunged into confusion and pain, and schism would be created in the Church in China.”

While the writers convey understanding for the Vatican’s eagerness for greater freedoms in China, they are “deeply worried that the deal would create damages that cannot be remedied.” This concern comes in part from a profound distrust in the Chinese communist party and its promises.

“The Communist Party in China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, has repeatedly destroyed crosses and churches, and the Patriotic Association maintains its heavy-handed control over the Church,” the letter declares.

“Religious persecution has never stopped. Xi has also made it clear that the Party will strengthen its control over religions. So there is no possibility that the Church can enjoy more freedom. In addition, the Communist Party has a long history of breaking promises,” it said.

The writes claim that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the greater religious freedom but would also prove damaging to the Church by undermining its moral credibility, as well as the people’s trust.

Quoting Pope Francis, the letter warns against trying to obtain “immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness.”

Any agreement, the writers say, “must be grounded in the protection of religious freedom, and an end to religious persecution,” whereas the Communist party is moving in the opposite direction. The newly-revised Regulation on Religious Affairs actually allows for “stricter scrutiny over religions,” they note, and the forthcoming agreement will never result “in the Chinese government stopping its persecution of the Church, and ceasing its violations of religious freedom.”

The letter concludes with an appeal to all bishops to urge the Holy See to rethink the current agreement, and to avoid “making an irreversible and regrettable mistake.”

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter

.