Catholics in China
Jude Wanniski
April 1, 1997


Memo To: Robert L. Bartley, The Wall Street Journal
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Catholics in China

My colleague at Polyconomics, Peter Signorelli, prepared the following report at my request on the condition of the Catholic Church in China. Peter, who has been with me for almost 15 years, is a very serious Roman Catholic, a member of an organization in union with the Holy Father and loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium. His bias in the direction of church matters is thus quite clear, which makes his report all the more interesting in that it shows an appreciation of China's position vis a vis the Vatican, and the Vatican's of China. There is now a big push to blow up our relationship with China over the human rights issue. MFN is at stake, but far more importantly is our basic relationship with the new China. The Beltway mob is forming, with the avowed aim of turning China into an adversary. Bill Kristol has become the primary mouthpiece for the movement, but the cast of characters includes many of my old friends and yours, the same folks who helped destabilize Russia. Reading Peter's report may help you decide which path to take.


To: Jude Wanniski
From: Peter Signorelli
Re: China and the Catholic Church
Date: March 26, 1997

The Catholic Church has a long history in China, having, as Pope John Paul II observed, already been evangelized "in the 7th century, in the times of John of Montecorvino, first archbishop of Khambaliq (now Beijing)." There is today no question that the Roman Catholic Church, which is in union with his Holiness John Paul II and loyal to the teachings of the Magisterium, is persecuted in the PRC. The sorrowful record in this regard is well documented. Its intensity varies from one area to another, but "China-watchers11 at least are well-informed on the persecution carried out against the Roman Catholic Church (characterized by the PRC as the "underground" church) in Hebei and Jiangxi provinces, for example.

The government's strategy toward the Roman Catholic Church may be found in the national document The Procedures Legally to Implement the Eradication of Illegal Activities of the Underground Catholic Church. From my point of view, however, this ought not be viewed as a campaign motivated by Godless atheism against Catholicism, although that element certainly did exist in some cases. The campaign has been and still is centered around the question of the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff. From approximately 1949 to 1957, the government's persecution of the Catholic Church was promoted as the "emancipation" of the Catholic Church in China from foreign control, ie. the Vatican. The Chinese government views the campaign as anti-Papal, whereas Catholics view it as anti-faith. They regard the Holy Father as the supreme shepherd of the flock of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter upon whom Christ Himself set His Church. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), formally established by the government July 1957, requires Catholics in China to reject the jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff under penalty of law.

I am compressing periods of history here, but as the Cultural Revolution drew to an end, there was a flowering of the "underground" Catholic Church in China, which has grown from approximately 3 million faithful in 1948 to perhaps as many as 12 million today. The CCPA likewise experienced rapid and wider growth, and from 1975 to 1992 apologies were actually conveyed to the Catholic community for its suffering during the Cultural Revolution. None of the prohibitions against the "underground church" were lifted, however, and it still remains subject to persecution.

What many observers and commentators do not realize, though, is that the relationship between the CCPA and the so-called "underground" church is far more fraternal than adversarial. Even among the ranks of Roman Catholics outside of China there is a misunderstanding of the CCPA, with some outrightly dismissing it as merely a political operation run by secular authorities, standing wholly outside the Truth of Jesus Christ. This is not so. The Pope has, in fact, recognized nearly 30 bishops of the CCPA as valid, legitimate bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, granting them the faculty to govern their dioceses in China. He is not recognizing the legitimacy of the CCPA by this act. Yet, for the most part, the Roman Church regards as valid, although illicit, sacraments administered by the clergy of the CCPA. That means, for example, that although the Mass celebrated by a priest of the CCPA is unlawful according to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, the sacrament of Holy Eucharist is made available and is valid. Transubstantiation, the changing of bread and wine into the real presence, into the body and blood of Jesus Christ does indeed take place at that Mass. All other sacraments confession, matrimony, holy orders, etc., likewise are valid.

However, as Pope John Paul II noted in his Message to the Church in China, last December "...the Church in the People's Republic of China wants to be truly Catholic... Therefore it must remain joined to Christ, to the Successor of Peter and to the entire universal Church, also and especially through the ministry of the bishops, in communion with the Apostolic See.... You [the bishops in China] are called in a special way to express and favor full reconciliation among the faithful. Be men of communion.... establish a dialogue in truth and charity even with those who, as a consequence of the grave and lasting difficulties [with the PRC authorities], have moved away, in some aspects, from the fullness of Catholic truth." His theme of reconciliation is not limited to the CCPA and the Church of Rome, as he asks the civil authorities of the PRC "not to be afraid of God or of His Church. Moreover, I ask them, with a sense of deference that, in respect for a genuine freedom that is a natural right of each man and woman, even believers in Christ be able to contribute more and more with their energies and talents to the development of the country. The Chinese nation has an important role to play in the community of nations. Catholics will be able to contribute notably to this, and they will do so with enthusiasm and dedications."

Opinion is divided regarding the fate of the Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong after July 1997. Catholics comprise 4% of the population, making the 250,000-strong Catholic community there the largest Chinese diocese. In his January 13 address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See, the Pontiff stated that "...we await the date of 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong will return under the sovereignty of mainland China. By reason of the size and vitality of the Catholic community living in the territory, the Holy See will follow with very particular interest this new stage, trusting that respect for differences, for the fundamental rights of the human person and for the rule of law will accompany this new journey forward, prepared for by patient negotiations."

There is concern that the Basic Law will be reinterpreted in such a way after July as to prohibit any jurisdictional role for the Roman Pontiff. Foreign Ministry spokesman Shen Guofang stated during a press conference in January that the PRC regards the appointment of Catholic bishops a matter to "be independently determined by China and there should be no interference by the Vatican." This received widespread play in Western media. However, Shen also stated that religious activities in Hong Kong would remain separate from Beijing and under Hong Kong's government after the territory is returned to China. "The religious policy in the mainland will not be implemented in Hong Kong," he emphasized.

Although the Vatican is seriously concerned with and far from silent regarding the political interference of the PRC in the religious practices of its flock in China, it is not engaged in the harsh polemics against Beijing one hears from other quarters on this issue. It has quietly noted that Beijing allows Catholics from the CCPA to establish churches, seminaries, and convents, and that it allows CCPA seminarians to go abroad for religious instruction. Last year, Pope John Paul II took steps to assure continuity for the church in Hong Kong, appointing Monsignor Joseph Zen coadjudicator bishop of Hong Kong. This advances Zen to succeed Joseph Cardinal Wu as shepherd of the Hong Kong flock, without having to submit to consultations with Beijing, which may become necessary after July 1 this year.

Beijing and the Vatican are leagues apart on the issue of the Pope's authority as a religious leader, but at least in Hong Kong there may be an accommodation. And in general the Vatican expresses a cautious but far more optimistic outlook than do many other parties that Beijing will maintain its pledge to not impose the mainland's religious policy on Hong Kong. If Beijing were to explicitly assure Cardinal Wu that it has no intention of interfering with his (or his successor's) appointments of bishops, it would receive the benefit of good will and confidence now still being held in abeyance. It would go a long way toward muting those who seek to use the problems between the Catholic Church and Beijing as a weapon against any policy of constructive engagement and cooperation.