PopeWatch: China

You can taste the fear in the Chinese reaction to the Pope’s statement that he is eager to visit China;

VATICAN CITY (RNS) China has reacted cautiously to a bid by Pope Francis to open new dialogue with Beijing, with some officials quick to warn the Vatican not to “interfere” with the country’s religion.

On his return flight from a five-day tour of South Korea, Francis said he was ready to go to China — “For sure! Tomorrow!” — after receiving a positive response to two goodwill telegrams he sent to President Xi Jinping as the pope flew over Chinese airspace.

“We respect the Chinese people,” Francis told journalists on the return flight Monday (Aug. 18). “The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work.”

That is still a huge challenge, as the Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since 1951. The Catholic Church in China is divided between an “official” church known as the Catholic Patriotic Association, answerable to the Communist Party, and an underground church that swears allegiance to Rome.

The state-run Catholic Patriotic Association was quick to respond to the pope’s overtures for greater dialogue, albeit with a warning.

“China will always safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and it never allows foreign forces to interfere with religion. The Vatican should respect China in terms of the personnel of a diocese,” Liu Yuanlong, vice president of the association, told the state-run Global Times in a report also published in English.


Go here to read the rest.  Religion is exploding in China.  The Chinese government is officially Communist, a substitute religion that virtually no one believes in, including the officials of the government.  The Chinese bureaucrats fear religion because they are unable to control it, and it is one of many uncontrollable forces in China that will probably bring about a change in government in the next decade.   Public protests in China increased from some 8300 in 1993 to between 180,000-230,000 in 2010.  China is about to boil over, and the Chinese government has no idea what to do except to keep the lid on.  As with a pot that is boiling, that is a long term dangerous proposition.  Change, radical change, is coming to the Middle Kingdom and the rulers of China need to face up to that.  The only question is whether the change will be peaceful or violent.  Pope Francis could help the powers that be in China embark on a path of peaceful change, if they only had the wit to realize it.

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  1. This is the second Pope though who to Chinese government ears and to many ears… is not being 100% honest even about recent events, Benedict had said in his 2007 letter to China that …” Likewise, therefore, the Catholic Church which is in China does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State…” Now Pope Francis says, “The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work.”
    Yet how many Catholic authors ( droves ) have praised Pope John Paul II for overthrowing Communism in Poland and Eastern Europe generally. And George Weigel in Witness to Hope credits John Paul II as secretly supporting Cardinal Sin’s public efforts to overturn the Marcos regime in the Phillipines ( he got on radio and urged laity to protect Gen. Enrile from Marcos forces ).
    In short, to China a Pope overthrew communism in Poland and overthrew a ruler right off their coast and very recently….and then Benedict wrote them that we don’t do that kind of thing but our writers say we just did.

  2. I would not say they were dishonest bill. The Church does not want to change the state except that she wants the liberty to perform her task- her work. that work is undefined in these short sentences, but we and the Chinese do know what that task is.

    Also, the quote in the post: “China will always safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and it never allows foreign forces to interfere with religion. The Vatican should respect China in terms of the personnel of a diocese,”
    Reminds me so much of this attitude in the United Kingdom from the time of Henry 8 and still discoverable today. The idea of the Church of England vs that foreign power the “church of Rome”.

  3. Anzlyne,
    You write ” The Church does not want to change the state.”
    But you are avoiding the data….that according to our own writers, Pope St. John Paul II helped overturn communism in East Europe and the Marcos regime in the Phillipines.
    And the Church would surely seek to change the abortion mentality and laws of China ( excellent project ) but would also seek to stop the death penalty ( not excellent for murder where China is more Rom.13:4 than we are ).

  4. I agree with bill bannon.
    The Church is not really interested in the policies and programs of a properly constituted government, so in that sense Anzlyne is correct. The Church merely assumes that a democratic government will govern justly under a Christian electorate, and sees this as a mere byproduct of the conversion (or re-conversion, if we preach to the choir) of the populace.

    This is exactly the fear of the Chinese communist leadership. Their only concern is the accumulation and exercise of power. They have come to realize that Maoist overt coercion is wasteful and even counterproductive, hence the liberalizations of recent decades. Christianity has made some astonishing growth in China during this time: 10% of China may now be Christian, and reportedly 2 or 3 major cities are now majority Christian.

    The Chinese leadership does not see these Christians as loyal citizens who love their country and who would risk death to save it if it were threatened. Such patriotism is not enough for them. No, they see Chinese Christians as a brake on their power, as moral agents who have the potential to refuse assent to policies that cross the line into evil. Allowing Christianity to grow will inevitably increase the limits on their ability to use sovereign power, and they simply cannot allow that.

  5. “China is about to boil over, and the Chinese government has no idea what to do except to keep the lid on.”

    Indeed, the government itself is part of the boiling, since local governments now have large autonomy and have developed massive corruption. Last year the China Aid web site hosted a video of corrupt local officials and police in Qingdao, Shandong province attacking a People’s Liberation Army building! The police beat and drove away the PLA soldiers and then the officials had the building demolished for their pet project.

    See http://www.chinaaid.org/2013/09/shandong-city-inspectors-abuse-power.html

  6. Calling the leader of the Taiping rebellion a Christian is a bit of a stretch. Among other “innovations” in Christian doctrine that he proclaimed was his role as the “younger brother” of Jesus. A true Christian, then Major Charles “Chinese” George Gordon, he of later Khartoum fame, who led the Ever Victorious Army, played a large role in defeating the rebellion.

  7. There are plenty of data such as the Taiping rebellion. Consider:

    1) During the Cultural Revolution a PLA general rebelled (in Wuhan, if I recall correctly) and the PLA air force reported dropped napalm on the city, among other actions, in an effort to suppress it. This is just a dramatic episode in a decade that brought misery to millions just a half-century ago.

    2) According to Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s monumental Mao: The Unknown Story, Mao’s doctors and close advisors did not tell him that he had a fatal illness because they feared that he might order a nuclear strike on the US and the USSR if he knew!

    China and the world needs China to be democratic and prosperous. I have my ideas about how China can get there, but the only certainty I know is that China cannot be bullied into it.

  8. Don, there is a lot of ‘stretching’ of Christianity in China today. For example, we have Eastern Lightning, a syncretic cult that sends its women to assault Protestant pastors and create false sex scandals with Catholic priests. The Chinese government is actively distributing anti-Eastern Lighting propaganda among underground Protestant and Catholic churches, in effect bolstering the very churches it tries to suppress.

    Another example is the Total Scope Church aka the Born Again Movement. This church has been declared a cult by the government. It requires converts to literally cry for three days to atone for their sins. I don’t know if it is a real cult, but they use orthodox Christian hymnals and thus give ammunition to the government that any Christian church using those hymnals is in union with them.

    The problem with syncretic Christianity in China is large enough to affect real Christian denominations in other ways. There is a group called The Shouters who has been declared a cult by the government and by the Protestant and Catholic churches. Recently The Shouters convinced other Christians that they are not heterodox, and there was a major retraction and apology from the Christians who had publicly identified then as such.

    A lot is going on under the surface of our human societies, and we barely understand it. Certainly watching TV will not show us.

  9. of course you are right bill bannon- I wrote that quickly this morning not saying everything I was thinking – but I meant that the Church would be fine about not interfering with the State as the State percolates along doing its thing while the Church takes care of its own. Of course that presupposes the goodness (or at least lack of egregious evil) in the State. No theocracy/no State Church but when all of our behaviors are subject to moral standards and when we are members of the State and also members of the Church that’s what perturbs the Communist Chinese government. We Could co-exist theoretically, but the leaven will do it’s work! … and the Chinese know that… so do the popes in those statements you referenced– I think they were careful in their choices of words!

  10. no one responded to the effect of Nationalism here as I tried to bring up in referring to the Church of England and the way they historically saw those loyal to the so -called “church of Rome” as not patriotic. Which of course is the same concept in the Chinese Patriotic Church. I have heard from people on the Right, but mostly people on the Left recently that nationalism is the problem of the day. Probably for different reasons for the Rights than the Lefts.

  11. It is true. The Church does seek change in any and every society: as the Sacrament of Salvation, the Church is salt, light and leaven. That is change. However, it is sacramental change, not secular [of this world] nor apocalyptic [religious fundamentalism]. China at the present moment is very similar to the Roman Empire in 300 A.D. It cannot stop what is happening within its society because the Gospel has far more power than the Hammer and Sickle.

  12. “China at the present moment is very similar to the Roman Empire in 300 A.D.”

    Yes indeed, as far as Christianity is concerned. Even the conflicts with Arianism, Donatism, Gnosticism, Pelagianism, etc., have echoes in China today, though it is nowhere as deep or extensive as it was in the Roman Empire.

    The difficult thing to acknowledge is that the current era is Christianity’s third attempt to grow in China. The first in 800-1000 by the Church of the East was successfully suppressed, largely because they failed to open seminaries in China. Had they done so they might have prospered and Tamerlane might not have later arisen to destroy them in Central Asia. The second was in 1600-1940 with Catholic and Protestant missionaries: hobbled by sectarianism and colonialism, it did not grow fast enough, and so was suppressed by the Communists. Thank God the suppression was not successful and now is growing again. Pray that another suppression is not forthcoming.

  13. “It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine, the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the Creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the divine law, and by the constitution of the Church. Lastly, he is tied up and limited by that doctrine, divinely revealed, which affirms that alongside religious society there is civil society, that alongside the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy there is the power of temporal Magistrates, invested in their own domain with a full sovereignty, and to whom we owe in conscience obedience and respect in all things morally permitted, and belonging to the domain of civil society.”
    Pastoral of the Swiss Bishops on Papal Infallibility cited by John Henry Cardinal Newman

  14. Anzlyne wrote, “Reminds me so much of this attitude in the United Kingdom from the time of Henry 8 and still discoverable today. The idea of the Church of England vs that foreign power the ‘church of Rome.’”

    Or of France, under its « Rois très-chrétiens » with a hierarchy perpetually suspicious of Rome and who looked to the Crown and the parlements as the defenders of the “liberties and immunities of the Gallican Church” against papal encroachments and that flirted with ideas of national independence, whilst detesting Protestantism.

    Then again, one has Febronism and Josephism in the Holy Roman Empire and the power exercised by the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies over the Church through ecclesiastical appointments and control of the Inquisition.

    Erastianism is the perennial vice of Catholic states and the rulers who were the most ruthless defenders of her unity, from Frederick II to Philippe Le Bel to Louis XIV, the most determined to curtail her liberty.

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