Vatican proposes Chinese bishop solution —creates more problems than it solves…
(CUSA) – China presents impossible problems under the Communist regime.
Only with their collapse, which may come sooner than later, will some semblance of religious freedom emerge. —Ed.
HONG KONG (UCANEWS ) – Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi last week offered what he described as a new approach to resolving the ongoing tensions between Beijing and the Holy See over the authority to appoint bishops.
In an interview with Phoenix TV — a Hong Kong-based channel with close ties to the mainland — Fr Lombardi proposed adopting the so-called “Vietnam model” for bishop appointments.
In fact, this model is not new and was the topic of discussion in China Church circles more than a decade ago.
So why has Lombardi resurrected the proposal now? The timing is interesting. His interview with Phoenix TV followed a series of interviews with three Chinese underground bishops by Rome-based media group Vatican Insider.
It seems likely that the Vatican is testing the waters to see how far China is willing to go in seeking a common ground for future appointments.
But there are competing notions of how the Vietnam model actually works.
According to Fr Bernardo Cervellera of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions in Rome, the model requires negotiation. Names are submitted by the Vatican and evaluated until a consensus is reached with the government.
As China Church experts are quick to point out, China does not negotiate well with the Vatican, which under this version of the model could easily find itself in an impasse over China’s demand for complete sovereignty over bishop appointments.
But as Phoenix TV characterized the model, it requires the government to submit a list to the Holy See for approval — a subtle but important difference, and one with a potentially bewildering outcome.
Under this version of the Vietnam model, the Vatican could be put in the position of evaluating a list of candidates proposed by a bishops’ conference that it does not formally recognize as legitimate, since it includes bishops that were ordained without papal mandate.
Moreover, the composition of the current bishops’ conference excludes underground bishops approved by Rome but unrecognized by the government — not a situation conducive to negotiation.
To follow this approach, the Vatican would have to accept illicitly ordained bishops while also instructing underground bishops to join the government-sanctioned bishops’ conference.
But that’s only one of the problems.
In addition to successfully promoting this approach to priests and laypeople, who owe their allegiance to Rome and not to a bishops’ conference that refuses to acknowledge Rome’s authority over them, two other obstacles would remain.
First, the constitution of the bishops’ conference states that the government “manages the Church in a democratic way”. For any negotiation to be successful, the government would need to drop any pretense to managing the Church and therefore would need to amend the conference charter.
Second, China’s national constitution states, “religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign domination”. So, the national charter would also require an amendment for any negotiation to succeed.
Agreeing to any deal that does not include revisions to two different constitutions would risk turning China’s Catholics into a schismatic church.
Seen in this light, Fr Lombardi’s proposed solution actually creates more problems than it seeks to resolve.
Lucia Cheung is head of operations for ucanews Chinese language service based in Hong Kong.