The Vatican has given guarded support to Chinese priests who refuse to register with the government. A new document says that “freedom of conscience must be respected, and therefore no one may be forced to take a step they do not wish to take”.
However, it suggests that, if priests think the registration document contradicts their faith, they could declare in writing or in front of witnesses that they are only signing the document “to the extent it is ‘faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine’ ”.
What the document says
The document says that bishops have asked the Holy See for guidance. Many Chinese clergy are “deeply disturbed”, it says, by the conditions of government registration – which is now compulsory. The Holy See called for the authorities to stop applying “intimidatory pressure” to the clergy – “as, unfortunately, has already happened”. “Almost invariably”, the Vatican says, priests are told they “must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”
The Holy See also clarified its understanding of last year’s deal with Beijing, which affirmed the “independence” of the Church in China. This did not mean independence from the Holy See, it said, but only from the political sphere.
What Catholic officials said
Vatican News, the Holy See’s official news outlet, insisted that “there is no naïvety” in the new guidelines. It observed that “many regions” in China were asking priests “to subscribe to texts which are incompatible with the doctrine of the Church, creating struggles of conscience”. The Holy See’s response was based on a “commitment to cooperating for the unity of Chinese Catholic communities”.
In a brief post on his personal website, Cardinal Joseph Zen raised concerns about the document. Were the priests with troubled consciences now a mere “tolerated minority”? he asked. And how exactly had the secret deal framed the question of independence? “I really want to see what was said in the agreement,” the cardinal added.
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