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Vatican denounces Chinese interference

The Vatican has released a sharply worded statement denouncing the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, which took place earlier this month.

The Assembly, which saw the election of new leaders for the government-backed Catholic Patriotic Association, was “imposed on numerous bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful,” the Vatican charges. The statement said that the government’s support for the even showed “a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China.”

Reporting that Chinese Catholics had received repeated instructions that they should not participate in the event, the Vatican said that those who took part voluntarily should reflect on the extent to which they are “responsible before God and the Church.” However, the statement continues, “many bishops and priests were forced to take part in the assembly,” in a “grave violation” of religious freedom.

Repeating the message that Pope Benedict XVI addressed to the Church in China in 2007, the statement emphasizes that the Catholic Church cannot be controlled by a government body, or subject to the authority of any other organization such as the Catholic Patriotic Association. “It is deeply deplorable that an illegitimate bishop has been appointed as its president,” the statement adds.

The Vatican cannot recognize an episcopal conference composed of the “official” bishops recognized by the Chinese government, the statement says, because that group excludes the “underground” bishops who remain loyal to the Holy See.

“The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens" lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China,” the Vatican states. “On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.”

The Holy See “profoundly regrets” the actions of the Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, the Vatican statement says. While lamenting that relations with Beijing have been “unilaterally damaged” by the event, the statement encourages faithful Catholics to maintain their loyalty, and asks all the Catholic faithful throughout the world to pray for the Church in China.
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