A couple of months ago, I thought it was a slam dunk that Bishop Francis X. Ford would soon be beatified and well on his way to canonization as a saint. But viewing recent developments in the Church in Communist China, I think the timeline may be longer than first thought.
Vatican sensibilities to the Chinese government seem to be particularly tense given the recent diplomatic moves toward cooperation on the selection of bishops on the mainland.
There are two sets of bishops in China. One group belongs to the so-called Underground China. They are the Vatican-appointed prelates who do not meet with government approval.
Then there are the bishops of the Patriotic Church – the government-sanctioned Church – who were elected by the local state governments. Some are approved by the Vatican, but some are not.
For years, the Church and the State have been trying to work on a way that all new bishops have dual approval.
The controversy has reached a fever pitch this week as sources say that the Vatican has asked two of its bishops to resign because they are not approved by the government. It’s a bold move that has irked those who have suffered as martyrs, persecuted by the Communists since the Revolution carried out by Mao-Tse Tung.
Others feel that going along to get along is the only way for the church to manage its way through the minefield of the current regime. The argument is that the reality is that the government rules the country, so why not try to co-exist within its system.
Retired Hong King Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun has been a vehement voice of opposition to the Communists. He sees the proposed cooperation as abandonment of those who have remained faithful to the Church of Peter.
In an article on the UCAN news service, Father Michael Kelly, S.J., argues that the compromise out forth by Rome is not without historical precedent.
He further asserts that “The risk is not really that the church will move ever more under the government’s control. It already is completely – whether in the open or the ‘underground’ Church. The risk in the moves now being made by the Vatican is that they will split the Chine deeply,” writes Father Kelly.
“There are two approaches to any set of negotiations: Walk away from the table and suspend discussions or stay at the table and negotiate the best terms you can.”
Regardless of where you stand on how to deal with the Communist regime in China, you can be sure that the Vatican is gong to be very sensitive about honoring with sainthood at this time a martyred bishop who resisted the Revolution. There’s no doubt that Bishop Ford was a saint and will someday be recognized by the Church as such. That time just might not be as soon as we would like.
Let the cause for sainthood continue and let’s pray to Brooklyn-born Bishop Ford for a change of heart in the state-controlled mainland. That could be his first miracle needed for canonization.