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Chinese bishop shocks faithful by recanting position on state-run church

A well-wisher kisses the ring of Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin following his episcopal ordination at St Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai (CNS photo/courtesy of UCAnews)

A Chinese bishop who has been at odds with the state since his ordination four years ago has publicly reversed his position, sending shockwaves through China’s Catholic population.

Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, Shanghai’s most senior Catholic bishop, has been under house arrest since dramatically resigning from the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) during his ordination at St Ignatius’s Cathedral in Shanghai in 2012.

The CPA officially controls the Catholic Church in China, and is not recognised by the Vatican or by many of China’s 12 million Catholics. Bishop Daqin’s resignation from the CPA was met with “thunderous applause”, according to Reuters, and made him into a popular hero among China’s “underground” Catholics.

Since his ordination Bishop Daqin has not been allowed to perform any pastoral ministry or to take over as Bishop of Shanghai when Bishop Jin Luxian died in April 2013. He also reportedly had to attend communist indoctrination classes.

But in a move which the Asian Catholic UCA News said has sent “shockwaves through the Catholic Church in China”, he has now publicly recanted his decision.

In a post on his personal blog last week Bishop Daqin wrote: “There was a period I was also tricked by outside elements, and made errors of words and deeds against the [Catholic] Patriotic Association. On reflection, I find this was an extremely unwise move.”

He added: “The Patriotic Association is not how many outsiders judge it to be.”

Much of his blog is in praise of his predecessor Bishop Jin, and his relations between Church and state. Towards the end he wrote: “The Patriotic Association [PA] has always [had] an irreplaceable role in the development of the Catholic Church in China. Historically, countless facts prove the PA’s importance to the Church. At this stage of development of our country, I think the position of the PA in pastoral evangelisation remains important.

“She can play a unique role in political guidance, Church affairs assistance and social services. For instance, the Patriotic Association provides a bridge role that helps priests and faithful to implement the national policies. As a seriously organised organisation of faithful, it can assist parishes and the diocese in Church affairs and other things; as an extended arm of the Church, the Patriotic Association can also bring forth the charity work of the Church to many social fields to realise God’s great love.”

Gerard O’Connell at America magazine has cast some doubt on how genuine his recantation might be, citing a source saying the writing style of the blog post is his, but “one part of the text is ‘rather rude’ and quite unlike him”.