WINDSOR TERRACE — Chinese priests in Brooklyn are taking a “wait-and-see” approach to reports the government in their homeland might be planning to ignore the renewed two-year deal with the Vatican over the selection of bishops.
A new set of “Administrative Measures For Religious Clergy” describes Catholic church leaders’ selection and ordination in China. However, set to begin May 1, these rules do not explain anything about the Vatican’s involvement in the process — widely believed to have been part of the original deal.
Father Peter Bai of St. Agatha’s Parish in Sunset Park said he checked with a bishop back in China about the lack of Vatican involvement, but the prelate had heard nothing. He added that social media has been mute on the subject. Father Bai said he hoped clarification would result from meetings on religion scheduled early next month by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
“I haven’t received any information from my friends in China,” Father Bai said on Feb. 22. “Maybe it’s true; maybe it’s not. So let us wait.”
On Oct. 22, the Vatican announced a two-year extension of the 2018 agreement with China over the selection of bishops in the country. The 2018 pact has never been released to the public, but it reportedly allows the government’s “Patriotic Catholic Association” to nominate candidates for bishop, with the pope making final decisions.
That arrangement was not mentioned in the new rules that were set out in a government memo, according to information translated recently by the publication Bitter Winter, which reports on religious liberty issues in China. Other organizations have widely reported the magazine’s findings, including National Review and the Catholic News Agency.
Father Joseph Lin, of St. Rosalia–Regina Pacis in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, said he too was uninformed about the new rules for selecting bishops in his homeland. He remained critical of both the government and the Vatican for not releasing details from the original 2018 deal. Therefore, the Vatican’s authority has not been confirmed to the clergy or the estimated 10-12 million Catholics in China.
“We don’t know the deal with China. It has never been revealed to us,” Father Lin said. “But the Chinese government — they know the deal. The final word in China is the Chinese government.”
Critics of Vatican-China relations say the government and the CCP can’t be trusted to select bishops because of the ongoing persecution of “underground” parishes that only recognize the Pope as the authority in religious matters. The new rules don’t mention a clergy member’s responsibility to share Godly principles. They do, however, stress the requirement for clergy to obey the government.
For example, Article 3 on “religious personnel” states, in part, that clergy “shall love the motherland, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China, support the socialist system, abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, (and) practice the core values of socialism.”
According to Article 16, “Catholic bishops shall be approved and ordained by the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.” The next few lines discuss documents and record-keeping, but nothing about Vatican approval.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, has said he understands criticism of the Holy See’s handling of China. However, he urged critics to be patient because diplomacy with China is a process, one that he hopes “will bear fruit.”
Father Bai and Father Lin said the only thing to do for now is to pray vigorously for officials in the Vatican and Beijing so God’s will is accomplished in China. Father Lin added he prays that when the current deal expires, bishops, clergy, and laypeople will know the details. And while Father Bai suggests a wait-and-see approach, he has expressed reason for concern, pointing to reports of China cracking down on social media commentary. He said the China-based company WeChat sent him a notice that his account was suspended permanently for breaking an unspecified law.
“I only put our Sunday readings on there,” he said. “I did not criticize the government or the company. But they tell me I did something against the law. It is ridiculous.”