The scandal of China’s political bishop
Catholic Herald, 22 November 2018
Bishop Guo remains a member of the Chinese parliament, despite a canonical ban on clerics holding public office
Cardinal Joseph Zen, emeritus of Hong Kong, was in Rome earlier this month to hand-deliver a letter to Pope Francis about the escalating persecution of the Catholic Church in China.
This is becoming something of a pattern in Rome, where bishops urgently arrive to ask for a correction in the Holy See’s foreign policy. The leadership of the Venezuelan bishops made such a visit in June 2017, and this past June it was the turn of Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Major Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. And this was not Cardinal Zen’s first such trip in regard to the Holy See’s China policy.
In our November 2 issue, Fr Dominic Allain wrote of the “demoralisation” of Chinese Catholics, who are facing increased repression after the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China concluded an agreement in September. That accord granted the Chinese communist party a role in selecting bishops, and lifted the excommunications of bishops illegally – but validly – ordained on orders of the Chinese regime.
Cardinal Zen’s visit to Rome was marked by silence from the Vatican. It is not known if the silence is one of acute embarrassment and shame on the part of the Holy See’s diplomats, having recently concluded an agreement with a regime which neglects even the courtesy of fake cooperation, but ramps up persecution instead. Or perhaps the Vatican’s silence was part of the agreement itself. We don’t know, as the agreement is secret.
We do know that China decided, upon concluding the agreement, that it would go out of its way to humiliate Pope Francis. It named its own delegates to the synod, forcing the Vatican to accept them. After the Holy Father magnanimously welcomed them publicly in a voice choking with emotion, the Chinese regime hauled them back to Beijing before the synod finished. Having achieved its propaganda goals, it claimed the bishops had prior commitments back home.
What might that pressing business be? It turns out that one of the two delegates, Bishop Joseph Guo of Chengde, has served for three terms in the National People’s Congress, Beijing’s “parliament”. Bishop Guo was ordained in 2010 without papal approval and so was automatically excommunicated by Pope Benedict XVI. In September, Pope Francis lifted that excommunication.
However, it appears that in its haste to show goodwill toward the Chinese communists, the Vatican neglected to insist that Bishop Guo resign from the National People’s Congress. That chamber generally rubber stamps decisions taken by the communist party, but it is the legal instrument by which much Catholic persecution is executed. It is a grave scandal for a Catholic bishop to be a member of it.
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