Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – “An irreversible and regrettable mistake “: this is how a group of Catholic personalities in Hong Kong and in the world defines the possible agreement between China and the Holy See on bishops’ nominations, reported by some media as “imminent”. In an open letter addressed to the bishops of the world they ask them to ask the Holy See to stop the agreement and to re-set it with precise guarantees on the pontiff’s freedom to appoint bishops and with guarantees of true religious freedom for Christians and society . Among the signatories are academics, lawyers, human rights activists. Here is the text of the petition sent to AsiaNews, also found on the site http://www.freecatholicsinchina.org / and open to signatures.
An Open Letter to Conferences of Catholic Bishops Across the World Regarding the Possible Agreement Between the Holy See and the Government of the People’s Republic of China
Your Eminence and Most Reverend,
We are a group of Catholics. Recently there has been news reports indicating that the Holy See and the government of the People’s Republic of China will soon reach an agreement over the issue of bishop appointment, as well as recognition of seven illicit “bishops”. We are deeply shocked and disappointed. With our love and allegiance to the Holy Mother Church, we hope you and the bishops conferences would pay attention to such development.
According to the teachings of the Holy Mother Church, bishops are the successors of the Apostles, bearing the duties of leading and tending the flock: “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” ( Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.”(Catechism, 869) All bishops must therefore be appointed by the Successor of Peter — the Holy Father, the Pope. And they must be men of moral principles and wisdom. The government must play no role in the selection process:
“[T]he right of nominating and appointing bishops belongs properly, peculiarly, and per se exclusively to the competent ecclesiastical authority. Therefore, for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities.” (Christus Dominus, para. 20)
Yet, the seven illicit “bishops” were not appointed by the Pope, and their moral integrity is questionable. 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.
We fully understand that the Holy See is eager to be able to evangelize in China more effectively. However, we are deeply worried that the deal would create damages that cannot be remedied. 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. 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. We are worried that the agreement would not only fail to guarantee the limited freedom desired by the Church, but also damage the Church’s holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity, and deal a blow to the Church’s moral power. The Church would no longer be able to have the trust of people, and “serves as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society as it is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God’s family.” (Gaudium et Spes, 40)
In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, our beloved Pope Francis writes: “Sometimes I wonder if there are people in today’s world who are really concerned about generating processes of people-building, as opposed to obtaining immediate results which yield easy, quick short-term political gains, but do not enhance human fullness… The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.” (224-225) The Spirit of God sometimes does not allow us to proceed. (ref. Act 16:6) Though the force of evil is growing, time belongs to God. By putting our trust in the Lord, the dark night will eventually pass. Rushing for a quick achievement, taking a wrong step, can result in total failure.
His Holiness has always been attentive to the sufferings of persecuted Christians. He once said: “Legal systems, therefore, whether state or international, are called upon to recognize, guarantee and protect religious freedom, which is an intrinsic right inherent to human nature, to the dignity of being free, and is also a sign of a healthy democracy and one of the principal sources of the legitimacy of the State.” “It causes me great pain to know that Christians in the world submit to the greatest amount of such discrimination. Persecution against Christians today is actually worse than in the first centuries of the Church, and there are more Christian martyrs today than in that era.”[i]
We believe that persecution of Christians in China also pains His Holiness. Therefore, we urge that any agreement must be grounded in the protection of religious freedom, and an end to religious persecution. Unfortunately, as a newly-revised Regulation on Religious Affairs, which allows for stricter scrutiny over religions, has just been put into effect in early February, we cannot see any possibility that the coming agreement can result in the Chinese government stopping its persecution of the Church, and ceasing its violations of religious freedom.
Your Eminence and Most Reverend, we earnestly hope that, you, your brothers and your flock continue to pray for the communion of the Church in China, as well as her pastoral ministry. We earnestly ask you, with the love on the people of God, appeal to the Holy See: Please rethink the current agreement, and stop making an irreversible and regrettable mistake.
May the Almighty God bless the Church in China!
Martyr Saints of China, pray for us!
The initiators are university professors, lecturers, researchers, human rights activists and lawyers:
Dr. Kenneth Ka-lok Chan (Hong Kong)
Prof. Joseph Yu-shek Cheng (Hong Kong)
Mr. Yiu-leung Cheung (Hong Kong)
Dr Rodney Wai-chi Chu (Hong Kong)
Dr. Martin C. K. Chung (Hong Kong)
Mr. Yan-ho Lai (Hong Kong)
Dr. Wing-kwan Lam (Hong Kong)
Dr. Lisa Yuk-ming Leung (Hong Kong)
Mr. Kwok-ming Ma (Hong Kong)
Mr. Chit-wai John Mok (Irvine, US)
Dr. Yik-fai Tam (San Francisco, US)
Prof. Wai Ting (Hong Kong)
Mr. Yiu-ming To (Hong Kong)
Mr. Benedict Rogers (London, UK)
Mr. Patrick Yu (Northern Ireland, UK)
[i] Address to participants in the international conference “Religious freedom according to international law and the global conflict of values”, 20 June 2014.