Cardinal Pietro Parolin has defended the Vatican’s diplomatic approach to China. The Holy See hopes to end the current division, in which some bishops are only recognised by Rome, and some only by the state-run Patriotic Association. A deal is planned in which Rome and Beijing collaborate. Cardinal Joseph Zen has criticised the deal. In an apparent response, Cardinal Parolin said there was no “exclusive interpreter of what is good for Chinese Catholics”.
What the media are saying
Pope Francis is trying to reverse a decline in China’s Catholic population, said Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian in the Washington Post. But “this very scenario has played out before – in communist Hungary”. After the Vatican allowed Hungary to appoint bishops, Catholics lapsed in vast numbers.
Opposition to the deal is “widespread”, Allen-Ebrahimian claimed. Guo Xijin, one of the bishops asked to step aside, serves in a region that has about 80,000 Catholics. Of those, 70,000 are affiliated with the “underground” Church rather than the state-run institution. But Fr Jeroom Heyndrickx told the BBC that the time was right. “China has changed and the Church has changed and this is what constitutes a new opportunity for this dialogue to succeed,” he said.
What cardinals are saying
Cardinal Parolin stressed that the Holy See understood the “serious sufferings endured by many Catholics in China and their generous witness to the Gospel”. Nevertheless, he told La Stampa, “The hope is that, when God wills it, we won’t have to speak of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ bishops, ‘clandestine’ and ‘official’ bishops in the Church in China, but about meeting among brothers and sisters.”
Cardinal Zen, in remarks reported by South China Morning Post, said that he had been advised “not to talk so much” and to confine himself to prayer, but that he would continue to speak out. He also criticised an official who told Reuters that Catholics in China would still be “like a bird in a cage … but the cage will be bigger”. “The problem is not the size of the cage, but who is in it,” the cardinal said.
✣Philippines bishops warn of ‘creeping dictatorship’
The bishops of the Philippines expressed fears of a “creeping dictatorship” amid efforts by President Rodrigo Duterte to rewrite the country’s constitution. In a letter the bishops urged Catholics to oppose “rash” changes and warned: “Political dynasties … are becoming a dominant factor in our country’s political life.”
Why was it under-reported?
Constitutional change does not grab headlines in quite the same way as drug killings. And Duterte’s desired reforms – introducing a prime minister and a federal system – are not in themselves alarming. But analysts say there is a risk of a coup. Critics point to Duterte’s lack of concern for the rule of law and argue that congress is likely to propose ending presidential time limits. The bishops say their fears are provoked by “past experience”. The present constitution was introduced to avoid a repeat of the brutal Marcos dictatorship that ended in 1986.
What will happen next?
Duterte is still very popular. His approval rating is the highest of any Philippines leader in decades, despite a drugs war that Human Rights Watch says has killed 12,000 people. In the 1980s the Church led the “People Power” revolution that ended the grim Marcos years. Now its influence is weaker. So far its strong and frequent criticism of Duterte appears to have been ignored. This time, the bishops have urged Catholics to engage in constitutional debates, calling it an “urgent moral task that seriously affects the future of our nation”.
✣The week ahead
Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day for the first time since 1945 next week. That means, as one writer put it, “soup dinner and no dessert”. Several dioceses have clarified that there will be no dispensation from the obligations of fasting and abstinence. Catholics are obliged to abstain from meat and to eat one full meal supplemented by two smaller meals.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago is giving a talk in Cambridge at 4pm today. The talk, hosted by the university’s Von Hügel Institute, is entitled “Pope Francis’s revolution of mercy: Amoris Laetitia as a new paradigm of Catholicity”.
The opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics will take place in South Korea this evening. North and South Korean athletes will march together under a single flag. Bishop Peter Lee Ki-heon, president of the bishops’ reconciliation committee, said he hoped the event would be a “turning point”. Bishop Lee of Uijeongbu has called it a “step forward to a new era of peace”.
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