Saturday, March 16, 2013

The New Pope and China: Healing Time

"He is absolutely capable of undertaking the necessary renovation without any leaps into the unknown. He would be a balancing force. He shares the view that the Church should have a missionary role, that gets out to meet people, that is active ... a Church that does not so much regulate the faith as promote and facilitate it." 


-Francesca Ambrogetti, who co-authored a biography of Bergoglio


The first Jesuit pope and the first from Latin America (not the first non-European, but "the 11th non-European pope in the church’s history, and the first in 1,272 years") has the potential to heal the rift between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), or 中国天主教爱国会, and the Roman Curia.

"Former" Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin
Choosing a new Secretary of State will be one of his most important early tasks, "given the dreadful mess the last Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, is considered to have made of it. Cardinal Bertone was seen to have accumulated too much power over the Vatican’s finances for himself and close associates, as well as presiding over the Holy See’s calamitous diplomatic relations, which in the past two years have broken down with Beijing," reports The Independent. This break-down in diplomatic relations has centered around the CPCA's desire to appoint bishop's without Vatican approval. An AP article published in The Japan Times lays out the challenges and the hopes of some Chinese Catholics. The other issue that has dominated the conversation between Beijing and the Vatican, since their formal break 50 years ago, is Taiwan and the "one China Policy."


The rift between the Roman Catholic Church and China pre-dates the ascendancy of the Communist Party. Some readers will remember an earlier post of mine that treated the issue of so-called "Chinese Rites" and the response of the Kangxi Emperor to the itinerant orders and Pope Clement XI's papal bull, Ex illa die. Of course, this is ancient history, but Ricci is still a central figure for Chinese Catholics. Like the new pope, Ricci was a Jesuit who thought that allowing the Chinese to continue ancient Confucian practices, like the celebration of ancestors on Tomb-Sweeping Day, was not contrary to being Catholic. More than a hundred years after Ricci's death, Clement XI sided with the Dominicans and other itinerant orders more fundamentalist point-of-view. As a result, the Kangxi Emperor said that Christians were no longer welcome in China because they cause trouble.

Today, the Chinese government rejects exercise of any authority by organs of the Catholic Church outside China. This has been their position since 1949, the year communists gained power over all of mainland China.  CPCA, which was founded in 1957, thus does not recognize the proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary by Pope Pius XII in 1950, canonizations from 1949 onward (e.g. the canonization of Pope Pius X), Vatican declarations on even well-established devotional piety (e.g. on the Sacred Heart of Jesus or on Mary as Queen), and the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965). There are still card-carrying members of the CPC who believe that only atheists should be allowed to participate in the governance of China, but that is quickly becoming an out-moded way of thinking.

It will be interesting to see what Xi Jinping does. He and the Pope do have some commonalities. There are likely to be many sarcastic commentaries in the coming weeks, such as Anthony Tao's at Beijing Cream. My hope is that more serious people will work diligently to bring a fragmented Church closer together.