The Church and China

It was a dramatic scene: venerable Cardinal Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, a lifelong foe and survivor of Communism in China, a spiritual hero and living saint, showing up outside Saint Peter’s demanding that the Pope receive a letter he had written, criticizing the Vatican’s recent overtures and agreements with the Communist regime.

It was reminiscent of Saint Paul’s rebuke of Saint Peter ‘to his face’ for compromising the new covenant. Yes, Popes do need criticism at times, and some times more than others.

To get a grasp on how far things have gone, read over this sharply worded article. George Weigel, the biographer of Pope John Paul II, criticized in no uncertain terms Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, for some indiscernible reason head of various pontifical academies, who bizarrely claimed recently that “right now, those who are best implementing the social doctrine of the Church are the Chinese”

What? Wiegl outlines four or five areas wherein the policies of the Chinese Communists are directly contrary to the Church’s ‘social doctrine’, including slave labour camps, forced abortion, two-child policy, brainwashing, compulsory education, widespread and rather indiscriminate capital punishment and, I would add, an overall destruction of the family.

The Church has from her very beginnings had to compromise with corrupt and over-reaching regimes from Nero and Saint Peter, to Constantine, who first made Christianity legal in 313, but who could not quite let go of trying to run the show. After that, caesaropapism became an addictive policy for rulers in Christendom, with the various ‘caesars’ of each era trying to usurp the prerogatives of the papacy and the Church in general:

Henry IV and Gregory VII in the 12th century, Henry VIII and Clement VII in the 16th, Napoleon and Piuses V and VI in the early 19th, Bismarck and Pius IX in the later 19th, and all the way into our own day with the various, even more nefarious, totalitarian regimes.

Which brings us to Communism/Socialism, unique amongst social systems in that it seeks to control every single aspect of human existence, from the family unit all the way up, including religion and the Church (both of which it seeks ultimately to abolish). It really is, as Marx himself intended, an anti-Church, and the most clear instantiation of anti-Christ in modern times, as Pius XI recounts in the few brief, concise opening paragraphs of his 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris, summarizing the intrinsically evil philosophy of Communism as well as anyone I have read.

One decade after the encyclical, which was directed primarily against Stalinist Sovietism, the Communists, whose mission after all is world domination, took over in China in 1949 under Mao Tse Tung, with indescribable brutality, making the nation officially Communist.

Ever since the foundation of the ‘People’s Republic of China’, there have been no official relations between Rome and China. The Church was persecuted and proscribed, forbidden to meet, offer sacraments and appoint bishops.

That is, the one true Church. The Communist Party set up a ‘national’ and ‘patriotic’ ‘Catholic’ Church, a tri-partite oxymoron, which would be permitted to operate, but under the strict supervision of the Party. Pope Pius XII wrote some rather sharp and direct encyclicals against this usurpation of the Church’s prerogatives, and the subsequent persecution, including Ad Sinorum Gentem (1954), in which he warned the ‘patriotic’ church would not be Catholic; and Ad Apostolrum Principis (1958), which condemned the Communist policies, with ecclesiastical censure for those who participated.

An underground Church took root, with tacit support from Rome, bishops being appointed and consecrated secretly, which continued in fidelity to the Magisterium, and which has continued to offer Mass and the sacraments, always at grave risk of imprisonment and persecution to the present day.

In the midst of this precarious situation, there have always been secret and unofficial communication between the Vatican and the Chinese politburo, seeking some sort of compromise. The Church need not, and usually cannot, demand all of her rights in dealing with any government, and must focus on what is most essential to her mission in saving souls.

Yet there is a limit to how far such compromise can go, and some, including Cardinal Zen, claim that the Church has now gone a bridge too far. Pope Francis has recently accepted two regime-appointed bishops, and asked the respective faithful underground bishops, who had stood faithful for years, to step down to make room and make peace.

It is Cardinal Zen’s claim that, like Our Lord warned, although the Communists claim peace, there is no peace but rather a scorpion, and that, to put things diplomatically, the Communists are being disingenuous, seeking that final goal of a totally State-run-and-monitored Church, which is really no Church at all, but just another branch of the socialist regime.

The most basic and fundamental right the Church must demand to fulfil her purpose is freedom, to carry out her mission encapsulated in the three-fold munera of Christ, as priest, prophet and king:

As priest, to carry out her spiritual obligations to the faithful by the sacraments, especially the Holy Mass, confession and marriage.

As prophet, to teach the full, salvific truth of Christ’s revelation, which includes not only ‘spiritual’ truths, but also all the requirements of natural law and the Church’s social doctrine, not least the truth of the evil of abortion and contraception and, lo and behold, Communism itself.

As king, the right to govern her own affairs with autonomy, which means churches free from government interference, and the right to appoint her own bishops and priests. Even if the Church allows some governmental role in appointing bishops (such as a ‘short list’, which she has done in the past), the final say must be the Holy Father’s.

Already, with the recent compromises (which literally means ‘both promise’) by Rome, the signs are ominous. An article today reports that the Chinese government has banned ‘minors’ from religious buildings. I wonder why. Could it be that they might become ‘indoctrinated’ against the materialist and atheistic ideology of Marxism? As Pius XI rightly foresaw, any socialist and totalitarian regime will first seek control over the formation of children, for then they control everything else.

The Church must work, evangelize, teach and sanctify in the midst of countless less-than-perfect situations throughout the world and until the end of time, saving as many souls as she can with the grace of God.

How far the Church can go in com-promising with the Communists is and will continue to be a very precarious endeavour. But there are principles and truths at stake which cannot be undermined, all those basic rights and freedoms of the human person made in the image of God. It is for these that the Church and her faithful members must stand fast, even to the point of persecution and martyrdom.