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The Pope Meets Pilgrims From China © L'Osservatore Romano

China: ‘Respect of Consciences’ and ‘Mercy for All,’ Asks the Holy See

Registration of the Clergy? Loyally and without Intimidations . . .

In face of a “very complex” Chinese situation, the Holy See published “pastoral guidelines in connection with the civil registration of the clergy in China,” in three languages: Italian, English and Chinese, this Friday, June 28, 2019, “Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.”

It calls for respect of “conscience” and “of profound Catholic convictions.” It emphasizes that the dialogue continues with the Authorities in order to “find a formula that, in the act of registration, respects not only Chinese laws but also Catholic Doctrine.”

Moreover, it invites Pastors to express clearly their loyalty and lay people “no to judge” Pastors’ decision whatever they are. It asks that the members of the “non-official” Church not be subjected to intimidations. It also calls for “discernment,” “patience” and “humility,” in a spirit “of faith and unity.”

Respect of Consciences

The Holy See thus answered the “questions of Bishops of Continental China” concerning “a concrete indication of the attitude to adopt before the obligation to submit an application for civil registration,” explains the document.

The Holy See points out on one hand that it does not wish to “force anyone’s conscience,” and, on the other, that “the underground experience is not part of the normality of the Church’s life,” that one has recourse to it when it’s a matter of “guarding the integrity of her faith” (Cf. Letter of Benedict XVI, 2007).

The Holy See requests “that the civil registration of the clergy take place with the guarantee to respect the conscience and the profound Catholic convictions of the persons involved,” in order to promote the unity of the Church” and “the contribution of Catholics to the good of Chinese society.”

Four Important Facts for a New Attitude

In regard to the civil registration, the document mentions four important facts. First of all, the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China “states officially that the freedom of religion is protected (Article 36).”

Then, the importance of communion with “Peter” according to “the Provisional Agreement of September 22, 2018, recognizing the particular role of the Successor of Peter,” and which “leads the Holy See logically” to understand and to interpret “the independence” of the Catholic Church in China, not in an absolute sense, namely as a separation of the Pope and of the universal Church, but relative to the political sphere, as happens everywhere in the world in relations between the Pope and a particular Church or between particular Churches.”

However, this communion with Peter does not mean forming a “foreign body” in a given society. ”To affirm that in the Catholic identity there cannot be separation from the Successor of Peter, does not mean wanting to make of a particular Church a foreign body to the society  and the culture of the country in which it lives and works.”

Third point: relations between the Holy See and China have evolved in some 70 years. At present they are “characterized by a reinforced , different dialogue from that which saw the birth of Patriotic organizations, in the 50s of the last century.”

Fourth point: Communion with Peter and with the Bishops of the whole world. The document notes that, in the course of the years, numerous Bishops ordained without apostolic mandate requested and obtained reconciliation with the Successor of Peter, so that all the Chinese Bishops are today un communion with the Apostolic See and they desire an ever greater integration with the Catholic Bishops of the whole world.”

These changes imply a “new attitude” on the part of “all”: “In face of these facts, it’s legitimate to expect a new attitude <on the part> of all, including in the way of treating practical questions concerning the life of the Church. For its part, the Holy See <continues> to pursue the dialogue with the Chinese Authorities on the civil registration of Bishops and priests, in order to find a formula that, in the act of registration, respects not only Chinese laws but also Catholic Doctrine.”

Manifest Clearly One’s Loyalty

What to do while waiting? The document answers concretely and prudently the way to remain loyal: “If a Bishop or a priest decides to register civilly, but the text of the registration statement doesn’t seem to respect the Catholic faith, he must specify in writing when signing that he does so without losing his loyalty to the principles of Catholic Doctrine. If it’s not possible to put this clarification in writing, the applicant will also do so verbally in the presence of a witness.”

A rule that is valid for all is the fact of then speaking about it with one’s Bishop: “In any case, it’s appropriate that the applicant then certifies with his own Ordinary the intention with which he carried out the registration.”

The document specifies that the registration “must always have as its sole end to foster the good of the diocesan community and its growth in a spirit of unity, as well as an evangelization adapted to the new needs of Chinese society and responsible management of the goods of the Church.”

However, if someone thinks he shouldn’t carry out this registration? The watchword is “communion.” The Holy See affirms its respect of consciences: “the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those that, in conscience, decided that they can’t register,” and “stays close to them and asks the Lord to help them keep communion with their brethren in the faith, even in face of the trials each one must face.”

Recommendations to Bishops and Laity

The Holy See recommends the same attitude to Bishops vis-a-vis their priests. Quoting the Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops: “ for his part, the Bishop must nourish and manifest publicly his esteem for the priests, by manifesting to them his trust and praising them it they deserve it; he must respect and have their rights respected and defend them against unfounded criticisms; he must defuse controversies promptly, to avoid prolonged anxieties tarnishing fraternal charity and bringing prejudice to the pastoral ministry” (Apostolorum Successores, February 22, 2004, n. 77).

In regard to the laity, the Holy See recommends that they be helped to “understand the complexity of the situation,” always in the hope of guaranteeing unity and communion in the Church and that they “accept with a big heart the painful decisions taken by their Pastors whatever they are.” It insists on the fact that the “local community” has the duty to accompany the Pastors “with a spirit of faith, by prayer, and by affection, abstaining from judging others’ choices, and guarding the bond of unity and practicing mercy towards all.”

No to Intimidations

The Holy See also asks  — in this time of dialogue in view of civil registration of the clergy “ respecting “Catholic Doctrine,” that “the ‘non-official’ Catholic communities” not be subjected, as alas has happened, “to intimidating pressures.”

The document concludes on the fact that these “pastoral guidelines” are intended as “a tool to help those who find themselves in the obligation of making difficult choices, of making them in a spirit of faith and unity.”

The last words are dedicated to discernment, patience, and humility. “All — the Holy See, Bishops, priests, Religious and lay faithful — are called to discern the Will of God with patience and humility in this stage of the journey of the “Church in China, marked by numerous hopes but also by persistent difficulties.”

About Anita Bourdin

France. Journalist accreditated to the Holy See press office since 1995. Started Zenit in french in january 1999. Classical litterature (Paris IV-Sorbonne). Master in journalism (IJRS Bruxelles). Biblical theology (PUG, Rome).

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