July 27, 2011| The Long Island Catholic Vol. 50, No. 15 | BISHOP WILLIAM MURPHY
The Catholic Church in China has suffered for more than 50 years from persecution, manipulation and government interference. Through all these years the Holy See and the popes who are the guardians of the unity and peace of the Church have attempted to care for the Church. The Chinese government for its part has always tried to control the Church through a “Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics” whose vice president is an appointed official of the Chinese government. Despite its every effort, the Marxist regime has been unable to annihilate the Church and to date there are from 12 to 20 million Catholics, the majority of whom belong to the Catholic Church, are faithful to the Holy Father and led by priests and bishops who themselves are in union with the Holy Father. In order to care for the Church in China, the Holy See has tried time and again to reach an understanding with the government. At times this has been partially successful but any understanding is subject to a change in attitude by Chinese leaders who feel free to interfere in the Church’s life as they wish. In the last several years, bishops who had been ordained at the choice of the “Patriotic Association” without the approval of Rome have found ways to demonstrate their fidelity to the See of Peter. Almost all the bishops fall into that category thus joining themselves to the Vicar of Christ and in collegial unity with their brother bishops in China who, always faithful, have suffered much through imprisonment, exile and even torture.
Over time a tacit understanding has been reached between the Holy See and the government that any candidate for bishop would not be ordained unless that candidate met with the approval of both the Holy Father whose universal jurisdiction over the Church cannot be compromised and the Chinese authorities who fear that any loss of control on their part might threaten their control over China and life in that country. For the past few years this seemed to be an acceptable interim means of proceeding until there might be a better understanding of the role of the Church by the government and a more open willingness to deal openly and publicly with the Church in accordance with human rights, including the right to freedom of religious faith and practice and guarantees for freedom of conscience and practice.
Twice in the past four weeks, the Chinese government has reversed itself and shattered this mutual understanding of how to name bishops for the Catholic Church in China. On June 28, Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained a bishop and on July 14 Rev. Joseph Huang Bingzhang was ordained a bishop without the approval of the Holy Father, without a mandate from the Holy See in direct contradiction of Church teaching and the canonical regulations of the Catholic Church, and solely at the instance of the Chinese government acting through their puppet, the “Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics.”
The Holy See reacted quickly and publicly. On both occasions, the Holy See announced that the ordinations took place “without papal mandate and hence illicitly” and the priest had incurred sanctions according to Church law. The Holy See does not recognize the man as a bishop and he lacks authority “to govern the people of the Diocese.” The communiqué goes on to state that the priest himself was informed of the reasons why he is unsuitable to be ordained a bishop, lauds the bishops and faithful who resisted the government pressure to take part in this illicit action and “reaffirms the right of Chinese Catholics to be able to act freely, following their consciences and remaining faithful to the Successor of Peter and in communion with the Universal Church.”
Please pray for the Church in China! From the first century on the Church has lived through state persecutions and all kinds of infringements of her legitimate freedoms. She will never cease to proclaim the Gospel and live the life that Christ has given us in the one Church He founded on Peter and the apostles and their successors. This violation of the freedom of religion of the Church and her members is not new. But it constitutes an abuse of power by the state and political power that should never be tolerated and does deserve condemnation by all who cherish freedom and human dignity. The abuse of power by the Chinese authorities has been notorious since the triumph of Mao in 1949 and repeated in the time of the Cultural Revolution and, more recently, by the events in Tiananmen Square. But it should never be ignored. It should be protested and condemned for what it is: a serious violation of the rights of persons and institutions that is unacceptable in any society that claims to live according to law with respect for the rights of all.
Sadly China is not the only example today. While it is perhaps the most egregious, the truth is that last year 75 percent of persons who were put to death as a result of religious persecution were Christians. And death is not the only way religious freedom is violated. It is violated by unjust laws in Europe and the United States. It is violated by regulations that do not allow a person of conscience to “opt out” of acts and activities that are against a person’s or an institution’s legitimate conscientious objections. It is violated when government claims that it will “concede exceptions” to laws that are unjust. It is violated when politicians announce that no one working in a government agency may refuse to act according to conscience but must perform acts repugnant to their faith or conscientious beliefs. In the past few months I can cite concrete examples here in our country, our state and our community in which one or other of these violations has occurred.
We must pray. But we must also be vigilant. And we must not tolerate infringement of human rights, human dignity and human freedom of religion and conscience. Remember the oft-quoted warning attributed to German theologian and pastor Martin Niemoller regarding the Nazi holocaust: They came and took away the Jews and I was silent because I was not a Jew. They came and took away gypsies and I was silent because I was not a gypsy. They came and took away people with disabilities and I was silent because I did not share those. When they came to take me away, it was too late to speak out.