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| Despite China-Vatican Agreement, Many Chinese Worry About Religious Freedom Cache Translate Page ||
“In the future, I’m afraid that Chinese Catholics might think singing the praises of the Communist Party is an integral part of the Catholic faith,” said You Jingyou, a 50-year-old human rights activist and member of an “underground” Catholic church in China’s Fujian Province. Mr. You has reason to be concerned. The recently announced provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing gives no assurance the government will curb its recent crackdown on religious practice, like banning online sales of the Bible.
The agreement ends a decades-long standoff over authority to appoint bishops in China. China’s estimated 12 million Catholics have been divided between an underground community that pledges allegiance to the pope and a government-run association, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Under the accord, Beijing will propose names for future bishops and the pope will have veto power over those appointments.
The new accord notwithstanding, the Chinese government has tightened its control over Christian churches in the past few years. Authorities have demolished hundreds of mostly Protestant (but also some Catholic) churches, evicted congregations and installed surveillance cameras in churches allowed to function.
The Chinese government restricts religious practice to five officially recognized religions on officially approved premises. Authorities retain control over religious bodies’ personnel appointments, publications, finances and seminary applications. They have often subjected members of independent religious groups to police harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearance and imprisonment. The government has imposed unprecedented control over religious practices in the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang and over Buddhism in Tibetan areas.
New “regulations on religious affairs,” which went into effect in February, ban unauthorized teaching about religion and travel abroad for religious meetings, all in the name of “curbing extremism” and “resisting infiltration.” Donations to religious organizations of over $15,000 from foreign groups or individuals are prohibited. A few weeks ago, authorities in Zhejiang and Jiangxi Provinces ordered government employees, school teachers and medical personnel to pledge not to hold “religious beliefs.”
Since China and the Holy See severed diplomatic ties in 1951, the leadership of China’s underground Catholic Church has endured enormous suffering for their loyalty to the pope and opposition to state control of religion. Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei, the first Chinese person to hold the post of bishop, spent 30 years in prison. Half of Bishop Shi Enxiang’s 94-year life was spent in various forms of detention. Bishop Fan Xueyuan was imprisoned for more than 30 years, while Bishop Fan Zhongliang spent more than two decades in prison and labor camps. There are many more such cases.
Authorities continue to harass leaders of the underground church. In March, police briefly detained Bishop Guo Xijin of Mindong after he refused to officiate at Easter Mass with a government-appointed bishop not recognized by the Vatican. Bishop Guo was one of the two underground bishops the Vatican asked to step aside early this year in favor of state-appointed bishops. The previous Easter, authorities detained Bishop Guo in secret for 20 days and forced him to study government propaganda.
Last year, authorities in the city of Wenzhou detained Bishop Shao Zhumin for seven months after his church refused to join the Patriotic Catholic Association. In December 2017, authorities in Lishui Prefecture reportedly took Father Lu Danhua into custody and ordered him to “study.” He has been “disappeared” ever since.
In 1960, on the eve of Cardinal Kung’s trial for “counter-revolutionary” activities, the prosecutor urged him to support the Patriotic Catholic Association. He replied: “I am a Roman Catholic bishop. If I denounce the Holy Father, not only would I not be a bishop, I would not even be a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties.”
Millions of ordinary believers have also valiantly resisted government control. You Jingyou told me that in the Catholic community in his village, the distrust of the government-run church is “intuitive.”
“When the government-sanctioned priest performs Mass in the government church, nobody would go,” said Mr. You. “Even though we have to hide in a dark corner to pray, there are a lot of us.”
Mr. You worried that with the Vatican recognizing government-appointed clergy, priests will incorporate Communist Party propaganda into their religious lives. “During Mass, will we be ordered to sing the national anthem? Communist Party songs? Will we have to hang China’s national flag? How does our young generation of believers know that this is not part of what Catholic rituals are supposed to be?”
Mr. You’s fears are not completely unfounded, as these things have already been happening to churches under the control of the Catholic Patriotic Association. The Vatican has yet to provide answers to these questions. Until then, millions of Chinese Catholics will be concerned that this new accord, whatever benefits accrue to their own church, will do nothing to protect religious freedom overall in their country.
| Gaps in the Story Cache Translate Page ||
For all of the wrath Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò expressed in his “testimony” over the Vatican’s handling of sexual-abuse allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, there is an enormous gap at the center of the conspiracy he alleges. He wrote that, in December 2006, he forwarded information to his superiors about a legal case involving a priest who had accused McCarrick of sexually abusing him. But Viganò never got a written response from Vatican officials, he complained, and three or four years passed before he heard anything. Finally, he wrote, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, told him that Pope Benedict XVI had “imposed” sanctions on McCarrick that barred him from public ministry.
“I do not know when Pope Benedict took these measures against McCarrick, whether in 2009 or 2010…just as I do not know who was responsible for this incredible delay,” he wrote in his August 25 missive. He added that, in June, 2013, he referred Pope Francis to the Congregation for Bishops and its dossier on McCarrick, whom he said Pope Benedict had “ordered” to withdraw to a life of prayer and penance.
Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops since 2010, responded October 7 with an “open letter” to Viganò that fills in some of the gap:
After re-examining the archives, I can ascertain that there are no corresponding documents signed by either Pope, neither is there a note of an audience with my predecessor, Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, giving Archbishop Emeritus McCarrick an obligatory mandate of silence and to retire to a private life, carrying canonical penalties. The reason being that at that time, unlike today, there was not sufficient proof of his alleged guilt.
Instead, Ouellet wrote, there was a less formal outcome in which a papal legate urged McCarrick to live a discreet life. Benedict did not “impose” sanctions, as Viganò had urged he do under section 1405 of the Code of Canon Law, which says that only the pope can discipline a cardinal.
If so, that destroys Viganò’s claim that Francis reversed the sanction that Benedict imposed; there was no canonical sanction. The implication of his “testimony” and subsequent follow-up letter was that support for his charges was in the file. But still, Ouellet’s account is unsettling: How could Vatican authorities have failed to substantiate the charges that McCarrick sexually harassed or abused priests and seminarians after the church had agreed to two secret legal settlements of these charges?
How could Vatican authorities have failed to substantiate the charges that McCarrick sexually harassed or abused priests and seminarians after the church had agreed to two secret legal settlements of these charges?
Ouellet anticipated that question, writing:
Without entering here into the details, it needs to be understood that the decisions taken by the Supreme Pontiff are based on information available at a precise moment, which constitute the object of a careful judgement which is not infallible. It seems unjust to me to conclude that the persons in charge of the prior discernment are corrupt even though, in this concrete case, some suspicions provided by witnesses should have been further examined. The prelate in question knew how to defend himself very skillfully regarding the doubts that were raised about him.
That is: Pope Benedict made a bad decision that was based on a botched investigation.
After the story of Viganò’s “testimony” broke with its release to two ideologically attuned Catholic-news websites, some pundits chided the mainstream news media for not reporting what it knew about McCarrick. Various newspaper reporters did in fact look into the allegations against McCarrick but were unable to substantiate them, in part because the legal settlements were not only out of court, but were made in cases that never were actually filed in court. The Vatican would have had access to the documents, though. Also, reporters found that priests weren’t willing to go on the record—another problem the Holy See should have been able to overcome in its own secret investigation.
This raises the suspicion that the investigation was not so much botched as fixed—it will take more disclosure to clarify what happened. Viganò and others seeking to oust Pope Francis and a long list of prelates they dislike have tried to make the story sound as sinister as possible. But Viganò did not have the facts—at its heart, the Viganò testimony offered speculation and bitterness. It did draw attention to a problem that is real, though.
It may be that the convergence of the McCarrick sexual-abuse case, the Pennsylvania grand-jury report on sexual abuse of minors and Viganò’s uncorroborated claims will lead to a long-awaited cleansing. The first step is for church authorities to admit the problem, and a statement the Holy See Press Office released October 6 seems to do that:
Both abuse and its cover-up can no longer be tolerated and a different treatment for Bishops who have committed or covered up abuse, in fact represents a form of clericalism that is no longer acceptable.
That’s a start.