Vatican, June 30: The Vatican has issued guidelines for Chinese priests and bishops who are forced to register with the government, noting that many clerics are “deeply disturbed” by requirements that suggest independence from Vatican control.
The Vatican guidelines, made public January 28, observe that although government policies vary in different Chinese jurisdiction, registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy, and self-administration of the Church in China.”
The Vatican remarks that in an agreement with the Holy See—the details of which have not been made public—the Chinese government recognized the role of the Roman Pontiff, and the country’s constitution guarantees religious freedom. For these reasons the Vatican says that it will interpret the “Independence” of the Chinese Catholic Church “not in an absolute sense, namely as separation from the Pope and the universal Church, but rather relative to the political sphere.”
With that in mind, the Vatican says, priests and bishops can accept the terms of registration with the government. If they are asked to agree to statements that to not “appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” they are asked to indicate in writing that they will uphold their “duty to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.” If circumstances do not allow for a written statement, the cleric is asked to make an oral commitment, preferably in the presence of a witness.
The January 28 statement says that the Vatican “understands and respects the choice” of priests and bishops who cannot, in conscience, agree to the terms of registration imposed by the government.
However, the Vatican guidelines discourage priests and bishops from maintaining the “underground” Catholic Church. The statement says that “the experience of clandestinity is not a normal feature of the Church’s life and that history has shown that pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering.”
The Vatican statement insists that the life of the Church in China has improved since the “provisional agreement” was struck last September, reporting that “all Chinese bishops are in communion with the Apostolic See and desire an ever greater integration with the Catholic bishops of the whole world.”