Chapter I - Literature on the Division in the Chinese Church

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The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over China in 1949 and immediately took an aggressive stance against the Catholic Church in China (CCC).  Two years later the Vatican internuncio, Antonio Riberi, was deported.  Missionaries were expelled and later disappeared from China's society.  Meanwhile Chinese Catholics, following in the footsteps of the Protestants, started their own patriotic movement for independence and reform in 1950 (China Missionary Bulletin 1951, 48-51).  The first Catholic Manifesto espousing the three principles of the establishing of a self supporting, self governing and self propagating church, was issued by Fr. Wang Liangzuo and his faithful at Guangyuan, Sichuan province in November 1950. Then it was widely spread throughout China, leading a way to severance of political and economical relations with the Vatican. These actions were forthwith condemned by Riberi in 1951 and by Pope Pius XII in October 1954. (Lou and Wu 1986, 17, 27).

Chinese Catholics however, understood and responded to these actions in various ways.  The original purpose of Wang in issuing the Guangyuan Manifesto was political rather than pastoral. His aim was independence from oppressive foreign missionaries rather than from the Holy See (Wang Liangzuo 1987, 19).  There were those too who insisted that Chinese Catholics could not follow the Vatican's anticommunist policies.  But there were others who rejected the above three autonomies.  Representative of this later group,  was Fr. Tong Shizhi, also from Sichuan, who wrote the well-known Faith Manifesto in opposition.  He said, "Today they asked  me to attack the internuncio Riberi, tomorrow they will ask me to attack the delegate of Jesus, the pope.  Will they ask me to attack God on the day after tomorrow?"  (Lou and Wu 1986, 257-62).  Different understandings of what these three autonomies meant led people to  different positions regarding the reality.

It is interesting to note that today, after more than forty years, there is no longer any strong division in Sichuan, the birthplace of the independence movement. The main conflict remains in the relationship between the government and the church, as reflected in the Chengdu Seminary Incident, where a non-Catholic cadre took over as rector of Seminary.  In mid-April, more than forty of fifty-four seminarians left the seminary (See Asia Focus, 6 May 1994, 1, 6).

Open Confrontation and the Start of Division: In June 1957 the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), guided by the principles of the three autonomies, was officially established. Their statement declared that the religious authority of the pope was affirmed, but not his right to give political orders (Lin 1995, 78-79; see Anon. 1996,38-43).  Soon the CCC was requested by the Chinese Communist Government (CCG) to elect and ordain its own bishops without Roman approval.  Expectedly Pius XII refused to approve the Chinese bishops' requests and threatened them with excommunication should they proceed to consecrate more bishops (Wurth 1985, 48-61).1  Subsequently relations with the Vatican were completely cut off.  Persecutions then followed right up to the end of the 1970s.  Secret designs as well as open confrontation led inescapably to division in the 1980s.  In other words, today's division persists as a result of the conflict in the 1950s.

Division started:  The CCC was quite content to develop in peace at the end of the 1970s.  There was no big struggle among Catholics at the time.  After a long period of persecution and with many of them released from prisons or labor camps, they appreciated having the chance to celebrate and receive the sacraments.  In general priests were welcomed by the Catholics.  Meanwhile in 1978 the Vatican gave the Chinese Church series of pastoral exemptions for the sake of pastoral convenience (Catholic Truth Society 1979).

Then in 1980 the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference (CCBC) and the Chinese Catholic Administrative Commission (CCAC) were founded.  The independent principles of "three self" were stressed and their practice required.  Some married or disreputable clergy and faithful were placed at the top of the leadership of the CCBC and CCPA.  Many Catholics were very disappointed by such developments.  Indeed, the CCBC and CCPA requested Catholics to cut off relations with the Holy See, whom many members of the CCPA criticized for its handling of the situation in the 1950s.

After his release from prison in 1979, Bishop J. Fan Xueyan of the Baoding Diocese Hebei became in 1981 the first to consecrate three bishops without any consultation with or prior approval of the pope as well as of the CCG.  He used as basis for his act a special privilege.  Thereafter Fan and his three newly ordained bishops--(Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, Zhou Shangfu of Yixian, and Wang Milu of Lanzhou)--then ordained many other bishops and priests without the required seminary training.  The Underground Church (UC) emerged as a strong force in the 1980s and was able to contend with the Open Church (OC).  The opposing positions of the UC and OC were clearly drawn.


What are the views of those who have been drawn into the division and those who have influenced division by their study as well as concerns? To know their attitudes is to know the basic components of the division. This section will cover the views of the OC, the UC, the CCPA, the overseas churches; as well as the Vatican and the CCG. The representatives from these diverse views include bishops, priests, leaders of the CCPA, Chinese and foreign scholars and theologians, Pope John Paul II, and Chinese officials.

Division in the eyes of the OC and CCPA

Division is shameful in the eyes of the CCP  In the early 1980s there was practically no mention made by the OC  about division.  The mouthpiece magazine of the CCPA, CCC, founded in November 1980, reported about division neither in the "Forum of the Independent and Autonomous Church" nor on other pages in nearly seven years.  Important authors such as Bishop Zong Huaide, chairman of CCPA, and Bishop Tu Shihua, the former vice -chairman, published many articles and papers in CCC.  Most of the time they talked about the homilies, successes of the independent and autonomous Church, inculturation, the Church history in electing bishops, breaking away from the Vatican's political control and supporting the policies of the CCG. But they never used or even mentioned the term "division" (See Catholic Church in China 1980-1987).

Then in 1986 Bishop Aloysius Jin of Shanghai referred indirectly to the existence of division (Jin 1986, 140).  In 1987 there was an ambiguous mention about division from Zong who produced the official "Work Report of the Fourth Conference of the CCPA."  On behalf of the CCPA Zong indirectly agreed that there was  division among Catholics, but insisted they were only in "the minority" and were being "cheated" (Zong 1987, 7-12).

In the early 1980s Chinese authorities, both civil and religious, officially denied the existence of a UC in China. Even to speak of the UC was regarded as an "unfriendly gesture" on the part of foreigners (Charbonnier 1993, 52).  Many leaders of the CCPA often denied division existed among Chinese Catholics. Zong recently even denied that there were underground bishops under detention in China (South China Morning Post, 4 March 1996, 11).

Their reaction clearly shows that division is seen as a shameful matter by the CCPA.  To admit the existing division means there are people who do not share the same principles as the CCPA.  They not only disagree with the CCPA but strongly oppose it.  Thus for the CCPA and OC, who prefer to talk about successes of the independent church, division is a humiliation.  Doubtless, division is not a glorious matter.  Therefore the response to it from the CCPA and OC is understandably not warm.  It is not necessarily rational, but it is understandable that they tried to hide, understate, avoid, and even deny it.

Early in 1990 division was mentioned publicly by Tang Boduo in CCC (1990, 15). In his view, there should not be a distinction between UC and OC.  Then in the second issue of CCC 1990, an essay criticizing the "13 Points" appeared.  The author signed himself Jushi (1990, 20-22).  His analysis of and attitude toward the UC could be considered to be very violent, defensive, and hostile.  Thus it was clear that by that time, the existence of division was being acknowledged through the CCC.  The dispute had come out into the open.  Recently in Hong Kong, Liu Bainian (1996, 6) admitted categorically and openly that there was division in the Chinese Church.  Not only did he not deny the division, he also stressed that the numbers in the opposition were few.  Liu's emphasis on both the dwindling numbers of the UC and their having denied division before show that division is still regarded a disgrace by the CCC.

Division is the fault of certain patriotic members and officials.  Bishop Li Duan of the Xian diocese has felt that division was caused by some of the members of the CPA as well as some government officials. He writes,

In the past, there have been people who have done things that are against love for the church and harmful to the church. There are patriotic associations in minority of localities which have acted untowardly. On top of that, some local cadres had not acted wisely with the resultant loss of acceptance by the masses of the people. This has also shaped opposition and tension.

In August 1988 the bishop of Pingliang diocese in Gansu province, Ma Ji (1988, 120-25), pointed out in "My Statement" on the CCBC, CCAC, and CCPA that discussion of the division was becoming open and that the power of the UC was becoming greater.  He noted that division had become more extensive and serious in Gansu and that this was the fault of three organizations and their members.  From amongst the CCPA Ma Ji (1993, 120-25) has made the strongest attack on his own fellow members.

Division is a challenge to the Open Church and the government.  There are Chinese clergy and faithful who view division as a challenge to the OC and the government.  They feel that the rift could spur the OC to improve or correct its theory of independence, such that it does not go too far from the universal church.  On the other hand they think that the problem also pushes the government to better ways of implementing religious policy.  In this sense, division does have its positive aspects. In the words of a Chinese priest, it is "the special will of God for the CCC in this special time."  Both the UC and OC can improve and compete in parallel ways with each other (Yueshing 1994, 4).

From threat to challenge.  In 1988 Bishop Aloysius Jin, at a meeting of the local CPA in Shanghai pointed out that the strong forces of the UC were moving from north to south including Shanghai.  Jin looked upon them as a threat to the OC and asked his audiences to deal with them prudently (Shanghai Tianzhujiao Hui Xun 1988).  His speech at first showed the clear hostility between the UC and OC.  But later he also demonstrated that there could be a shift from hostility to fraternity.  Jin looks upon division not only as a threat but also as a challenge.  In 1990 he again talked publicly about division and with regret.  He rationally responded to the "13 Points" and appealed for unity with love rather than hate.  He asked the audiences to forgive and help those who attack them personally and to improve the CPA's functions (Jin, 1993, 112-19).

In 1994 Jin (1995a, 23) described the CCC as "a small boat on the boundless ocean."  Unfortunately "within the boat, brothers are quarreling, with some even fighting murderously with one another."  He continued by saying that others in nearby boats, after observing this, also began to quarrel among themselves.  He proposed the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Rome as a key to solving the internal conflict in the CCC.  Jin (1995b, 14) also pointed out in 1995 in Scotland that both the UC and OC were making efforts at evangelization but with different foci.  Both were loyal to the pope.  There were some problems in the structure and organization of the OC, but steps were being taken to solve or correct them.  Jin indirectly admitted the challenge faced by the UC.  He noted that the UC, with limited resources, has had difficulty training sisters and seminarians well.  He warned that this could be hidden trouble for the Church or a peril in its future.  For Jin division results in missed opportunities for evangelization.

The government reaction: Nonpeaceful element

Several government documents on religious policies such as No. 19 (1982), No. 3 (1989), and No. 6 (1991) were issued by the Chinese central government.  Of these three documents, document No. 3 entitled "Strengthening Catholic Church Work in the New Situation" was formulated specifically for Catholics.  It shows the CCG's policy towards the UC.  It states that  the CCG look upon the UC as a political force opposed to the government an element of discord in the country, and whose actions are a consequence of the support of the Vatican.  The CCG/P's negative view of the UC is reflected in the following quote:

In  recent years, on the one hand it has slandered and attacked our country's Catholic patriotic clergy, and on the other hand, it has made use of the universal nature of the Catholic church and the religious belief of the Catholics and clergy regarding the pope to continually send people to China, or it has used other concealed means, to secretly appoint bishops to split the CCC. This is a factor which seriously affects the security of society (See the appendix in Tong 1989).

Document No. 3 shows that underlying the division between the UC and OC is a power struggle between the Vatican and CCP/G.  On the one hand the government realizes that it is a matter of faith that many Catholics believe in the pope as their spiritual authority.  On the other hand the CCG simply concludes that "the Catholic underground forces are made up of bishops secretly appointed by the Vatican as well as of priests ordained by these bishops and leaders manipulated by them. This clearly illustrates that division is one expression of a power conflict between the Vatican and Beijing.  For the CCG the way to handle the problem of the underground forces is simply to deal with the Vatican's "interference."  It is a political struggle, but as we shall see later, other important elements such as the cultural and the theological, are also equally involved.

Furthermore there is the division between the UC and Protestant house churches.  According to a scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Liu Peng, the development of this division was viewed as a "a big challenge to the government's religious management system.  It is very hard for the government to stomach the situation."  Liu (1995, 12) mentioned that the two "foreign religions" (Catholic and Protestant) indeed have brought real troubles to the government, especially because "the power of the UCs is so strong that the government has to work through organizations like the Trade Union, the Young Pioneers and the Women's Association, as well as the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) and public security sectors, in order to deal with the issue comprehensively.  The CCG's view is that there is a voice of opposition from Catholics in China, who do not follow whatever the CCG says. They certainly challenge and test its policies.

The UC insists: Division is a result of loyalty to faith in a time of persecution.

For its part and contrary to the OC, the UC has never denied division.  They insist on separation from the CCPA which they regard as a tool of the CCG, and so refuse to cooperate with the OC.  Further they do not allow the faithful to accept sacraments from "patriotic clergy" and to enter open churches.  They often say that China is still undergoing a time of persecution. For instance, in both the  "13 Points" and the "Pastoral Letter", J. Fan and others emphasized that China is going through an era of persecution.  As such, they claim the right to use the privileges given by the Vatican.

According to an underground bishop, there is a strong hostility between the UC and OC.  He accused the CCPA of borrowing the government's power to arrest underground clergy and treat them as enemies.  He then pointed out twenty two reasons why the UC cannot unite with the CCPA and OC (Anon. 1993, 126-34).  His main points of contention included the denial by some of the OC of the primacy of the pope and the fact that married clergy had been at the top of the CCPA or CCBC in the early 1980s.  He did say, however, that the state of the OC was improved and to a certain extent in the 1990s.  In his view loyalty to the pope and faith were primary reasons for their separation from the CCPA and refusal to compromise with the OC.  The UC attitude toward communism and the CCG is one of distrust.

According to Bishop J. Fan (1993, 142-45, "the so called self governing church naturally is no longer a Catholic church" because they separated and disobeyed the pope.  Anthony Lam, an executive editor for the Chinese edition of  Tripod, has pointed out that the "13 Points" are identical with the UC's standard which generally tends towards the "conservative" (Lin 1995, 206-7).  To further his point, Lam said that Bishop Fan adhered to the same principles came out in a document by the underground Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference (CCBC) later in 1990s.

In a pastoral letter to Chinese clergy and faithful in 1994, the unofficial CCBC declares that the CCC is divided.  It also said that one part of the church was recognized by the CCG as the "official church" and denounced the official CCBC as a new sect which must be rejected by the universal church.

Authority of the "China Catholic Bishops' College" comes from the "National Congress of Catholic Representatives."(NCCR) Because of its formation, its constitution, its autonomy from the pope, its accountability to the NCCR, rather than to the sovereign Pontiff, we, the Bishops, as members of the Universal Catholic Church, do solemnly declare that the "China Catholic Bishops' 'College'" and those churches which are led by the "College" has become a new church, not the same as an Orthodox church, nor the same as a Protestant church. . . .  Those Christian faithful who have failed to declare their separation from the "China Catholic Bishops' College" are no longer members of the Catholic Church. No member of clergy of the Universal church is permitted to be in sacramental communion with them (Anon. 1995, 53-59).

In this pastoral letter, the UC makes a strong judgment on the CCBC, CCPA, and their members.  This attitude of the UC toward the OC is a consistent one, and echoes that seen in the "13 Points."  Their use of  strong terms such as "denouncing" the OC as a "new church" "abandoning" the universal church clearly shows their anxiety, insecurity, and hostility.

Meanwhile some UC clergy disagree with the above view because they believe it would lead to great pastoral difficulties.  These clergy, insisting that there is no need to hide today, begun to influence public seminaries.  Many of them were seminarians in the 1950s and were secretly ordained as underground priests in the 1980s, in anticipation of fresh waves of persecution.  After a short period of study, their request to be reordained in a special ceremony as public priests were granted.  This happened in the northern as well as southern parts of China Some underground bishops such as those in Hebei, Tianjin, and Fujian provinces have come out into the open to dialogue and negotiate with the OC and the CCG.

Overseas churches and scholars

To most foreign Catholics and Chinese non Catholics in the 1980s, division in the Chinese Catholic Church was regarded as the outcome of the UC's loyalty to the faith and the pope.  But according to certain scholars, division took place because of the UC's aggressive attacks on the OC.  They believe that the emergence of the UC is a result of a Roman "green light" to the CCC.

It is undeniable that the present underground church took shape in late 1979 when the Vatican gave a series of exemptions to underground pastors so that religious life could be practiced. . . .  The Vatican also granted permission to ordain priests without the required seminary training. Permission was also given to aging bishops to nominate and ordain their successors, and this power was even extended to the selection of bishops for neighboring diocese with vacant bishoprics. This extra canonical permission was seen by some as a green light to build an opposition church(E. Tang 1993, 34-35).

The original purpose in giving exemptions was to fill pastoral needs and not to encourage separation or any political hostility.  Could it be that by giving privileges the Vatican simply miscalculated China's political situation again ?  Moreover, as John Tong (1993, 23) points out, these underground ordinations were done without any mandate from Rome.  Thus Angelo Lazzarotto (1995, 29) argues that "it may not be historically correct to trace its birth back to the special exemptions granted by the Holy See to the CCC in 1978."  Because "at the time, no one could begin to imagine the changes in Chinese politics, or even think of an 'opposition church'."  He then evaluates the past fifteen years and gives a historical background.  Lazzarotto also agrees with Tang that the division afflicting the CCC cannot be reduced simply to a dispute over loyalty to the Holy See.  He thinks that there must be sociological factors common to the dissenting groups.  It seems both the UC and OC as well as other elements like CCG must also be held responsible for division.

In the early 1980s most overseas Catholics and scholars strongly supported and sympathized with the UC.  This is quite comprehensible because the UC is seen as an oppressed community treated as an illegal body by the CCG.  Furthermore its fidelity to the pontiff aroused strong sentiments.  But after some years of contact with the CCC, a big change in perception occurred among overseas Catholics.  As a priest from Hong Kong shared to me, "How many people were against approaching the OC in the 1980s?  But it becomes an honor to go to the north from HK to help the CCC in 1990s."  The OC has not been as bad and the UC has not been as perfect as the overseas churches had thought.  The wide way guided by the pope is to approach both groups as bridges for reconciliation.  Certainly some have looked upon the OC with hostility such as Laszlo Ladany, a Hungarian Jesuit who was expelled from China.  At any rate, in the 1990s one common view is that division is a negative factor for the Church.  Thus the CCC needs reconciliation (Bridge Church 1992, art. 11-13).

Others see division as the effect, or one of the effects, of an ecclesiastical impasse.  Aloysius Chang (1992, 60-62), a well-known theologian in Taiwan, has observed how intraecclesial matters have become a main concern for Chinese Catholics.  He points out that this tendency towards Church centeredness is manifested in the Chinese Church's activities and also in her emphasis on nurturing a Church oriented spirituality among the laity.  According to Chang, in the sociopolitical order two factors absorb much of the church's energy.  They are her  relationship to the pope and the Vatican, and the danger posed by the attempts of the secular state to domesticate her authority.  Chang questions: "Has the CCC, by centering her attention on what are basically intra-ecclesial matters, now reached an ecclesiologicalÐimpasse?

Soon after Chang's paper appeared, an American theologian, Robert J. Schreiter (1993, 33-34), expressed agreement with his opinion.

The ecclesiology that fosters a preoccupation with external observances, that is constantly concerned with juridical relations to the hierarchy, and that finds itself largely absorbed into internal affairs is one that prevailed through four hundred years of the catholic church's most recent history.

For Schreiter, this provides a historical background to the juridical impasse.

Rome's response: Keep silent in public, accept both in secret

Since division took place among Chinese Catholics in 1980s, the Vatican has remained silent in public.  However, since 1979 Pope John Paul II has spoken to China on many different occasions.  In the first five years of the 1980s, the pope emphasized the unity between the universal church and the CCC, and the importance of communion with the pope vis ‡ vis the OC's independent theory.

The pope mentioned division indirectly when he met bishops from Taiwan in 1990, "Yes, Brothers, the unity of the Church, including that of the Catholic community on the mainland, is the fruit of the Lord's infinite mercy (John Paul II 1991, 3-5)."  John Paul II treats the church in mainland China as one Catholic church  even as he is especially close to those who remained faithful to Jesus, His church and the Successor of Peter.

Actually the Vatican is very much aware of division among Chinese Catholics.  The big problem is that the pope cannot function pastorally since the Vatican has no relations with Beijing.  The Vatican has been keeping silent in public from mentioning division, for fear that Beijing may misunderstand its intentions.  But many bishops from both the UC and those of the OC who have asked for admission have been secretly accepted or acknowledged as legal by the Vatican.  Many of the OC's bishops are legal in the eyes of both the pope and the government.  It is very interesting that the government should acknowledge these 505 bishops' legal identity from the Vatican.  The government is very concerned over the attitudes of these bishops toward the CCG.  Before establishing diplomatic relations with Beijing, the Vatican has often been accused by the CCG of interfering in China's domestic matters, by approving and appointing bishops.


According to the above views of division, it goes without saying that neither the OC nor the UC,  the Vatican nor the overseas churches desire division.  Rather, all these groups have been exerting efforts to  work toward unity in the CCC.  Thus the views of the OC, UC, CCPA, overseas' churches, Vatican and government, all provide useful pointers for the process of reconciliation and unity.

The OC appeals in a mild tone: Pray for unity

The OC's clergy hold moderate opinions on the UC with reference to reconciliation.  A good example is Bp John Liu Dinghan from Xianxian, who kept silent, despite being attacked by J. Fan.  These clergy insist that they are working for the benefit of the Church and for the faithful and are not afraid of rejection or attack by the UC.  A professor, who may represent some Chinese intellectuals, proposed: Not the Vatican, neither the CCG, nor sympathetic people abroad can solve the problems, but only the two groups themselves.  He proposed that the guidance of the Spirit, prayer, and mutual dialogue are important elements for reconciliation and unity.

Most young priests are engaged in taking care of the faithful's pastoral needs and evangelizing rather than arguing over division.  Fr. Xu Jiwei from Sheshan, who works in Ningbo, Zhejiang, a place where division is strongly felt, expressed: As to the dilemma between these who go to church and who do not, I feel that they should have a mutual understanding and not mutually attack one another.  The energy is entirely dissipated in mutual attacks. Everyone should rather put all their efforts into gaining new blood for the church.

A group of young Chinese priests expressed their sincere hope for communion, reconciliation, unity and peace, in Hong Kong in 1994 and 1995, share in. In 1987, Bishop Zong also appealed to the OC for unity.  "We must also work for the benefit of those clergy and faithful who have not recognized the independence of the church; help them to heighten their awareness of patriotism; care for their spiritual and political life; overcome their real difficulties so that we may unite together on the way of loving country and loving the church (Zong 1987, 11)."  In 1992 Bishop Zong played a similar tune to the 272 delegates at the Fifth  National Conference.

The UC proposes: The CPA must repent and be united to the UC

The underground CCBC was set up in November 1989.  When there was a rumor that the Vatican would establish diplomatic relations with the Chinese government, some of the members made in July 1993 twelve propositions toward reconciliation and unity.

The following are some of them:

5. The Patriotic Association should be disbanded, as well as the Bishops' Conference supported by it. The Bishops' Conference of the loyal church must not be disbanded.

6. If any bishops belonging to the Patriotic Association wish to repent and to join the loyal Bishops' Conference, they should make a public profession of repentance, and acknowledge their errors. Then they should be divided into categories: those who have married, have positively promoted the "independence" of the church or who want to play both sides should all be screened out.

7. Diocesan boundaries should be re drawn, and loyal bishops should occupy the most important sees.

12. In the spirit of the compassion of Christ, we welcome the return of our brothers and sisters who have lost their way, and we shall cooperate with them in furthering Christ's mission on earth (Unofficial Chinese Bishops' Conference 1994, 32-34).


According to A. Lam (1994, 35-39), although the proposal may not be representative of the views of most members of the UC, it still shows their worries and anxieties with regard to future diplomatic negotiations between the Vatican and CCG.  They also do not have full confidence in the Holy See's ability to negotiate on their behalf.

In a northern diocese some underground priests with their young bishop went to the local OC to seek reconciliation and unity. Their condition was that the local bishop must resign from the CCPA.  It seems the CCPA is a big obstacle on the way to reconciliation.  But it also appears very hard for the UC to change their denial of the OC in the past into acceptance of the OC today. They have attacked the OC so often in public that they feel too embarrassed to contradict themselves now, by cooperating with the OC in reconciliation.

The pope's response: Unceasing prayer and calls for reconciliation and unity

From Pope John Paul II's first speech to China in August 1979, he called on the universal Church to pray unceasingly for Chinese Catholics.  Since that time he has constantly repeated this message, even at the risk of being misunderstood. In 1982 he called on all Catholics around the world to pray for China (Wurth 1985a, 144-47).  On 28 February 1984, John Paul II entrusted to Catholics in Taiwan and the diaspora the task of being a "bridge church" for their Mainland compatriots. This was described as a wonderful task by him (Wurth 1985a, 176-78).  The pope's dream for the bridge church was that it should become a living witness of faith for the brothers and sisters in Mainland China (John Paul II 1985, 15).  The pope did not, and still does not, distinguish between the UC and OC, but looks upon them both as one big Chinese family.  Even though the pope never directly mentions the term division he calls tirelessly for reconciliation not only for China and the universal Church but also among all Chinese Catholics (John Paul II 1985, 17).

Unfortunately disputes have also taken place among the bridge-churches which have deepened the division in China and which put their role as bridge-churches into question.  This was not the pope's desire and certainly was a disappointment to him.  Therefore since August 1995 John Paul II has called the Church in Taiwan and the overseas Chinese churches "sister churches" instead of the previous term "bridge-churches."  According to John Tong's commentary (1995, 3-9), the new term points to a relationship among equals and stresses their intimate connections.  He also notes that the pope's way of reconciliation is Jesus's way: "This is not the way of group A approaching group B, nor the way of group B approaching group A."  In the words of the pope,

All need to move; all have to turn towards Jesus Christ, who calls us to unity and to communion. Everyone must bring along his whole self, his past, his present sufferings and his hopes for a better future. What we are speaking of is a long and difficult journey. The goal is clear enough, but the path leading to it seems still obscure. We need to invoke the light of the Spirit and let  ourselves be guided by his inspiration (John Paul II 1995b, 3-9).

The pope still emphasizes the "full communion and unity with the universal church and the Successor of Peter" in the discourse, but he is also happy to recognize that all Chinese faithful are praying for him.  Outwardly his way of reconciliation and unity seems to respond to some peoples' questions. In fact it tries indirectly to respond to the proposals of the UC, which the pope especially loves.

The situation is changing rapidly.  The OC started to pray for the pope publicly at the end of 1980s, and many strongly emphasize the need of accepting the pope's religious authority in 1990s.  It repeatedly tells the world that it is part of the universal Church.  At the present time the OC plays a mild role and expresses a willingness to admit their weakness of the past, to change their attitudes, and even to adapt their organizational structures today.  The OC is showing good sense by even asking for reconciliation with the pope and universal Church as well as the UC.  The pope has expressed satisfaction with the OC's reasonable gesture toward reconciliation and unity and has felt comfortable with its declaration not to separate itself from the Holy See (John Paul II 1995, 3-9).

In contrast the UC is adopting a radical stance by spurring these gestures of reconciliation.  Having no confidence in the Holy See's ability to rebuild relations with Beijing, it has called on the OC to adopt the UC's position wholesale, without leaving any room for consultation, dialogue, or compromise.  This is clearly contrary to the wishes of the Holy Father and is for him a source of worry and embarrassment; not least because he was very proud of their heroic example of loyalty in the past. Therefore, three years after the issuance of the UC's proposal for reconciliation and unity, John Paul II had to raise a gentle voice of advice and indirect criticism by reminding these brothers to stop their radical actions.

CCG: "Unite the great majority" and "carry out general control"

In the eyes of the CCG, "the Catholic underground forces are made up of bishops secretly appointed by the Vatican" (See appendix in Tong 1989, 74).  To it the UC is the main cause of division. To deal with division is mainly to control the UC and also to strengthen patriotic organizations, since division, especially the part that UC plays in it, is not considered helpful to the goal of "political stability and economic development" (Liu Peng 1955, 10).  The CCG wants to solve the "troublesome problem" and its policy is to "unite the great majority" and "carry out general control."  According to John Tong (1989, 72), a China policy watcher in Hong Kong, "the government still plans to use both hard and soft measures to force the UC to cooperate with government policy.  That is, it will either positively try to win them over by persuasion, or it will brutally suppress them."  This can be confirmed by two facts. As we mentioned above some bishops of the UC have been accepted and acknowledged as public pastors through a simple ceremony by the OC with approval of the CCG. Meanwhile the CCG has recently tried to win over underground Catholics by indoctrinating their members, demolishing their churches, disbanding their seminaries and convents (Sunday Examiner 1996), and even by arresting some underground clergy or faithful, as it has done often.

Efforts toward reconciliation and warning regarding radicals

In response to the pope's call to pray for the CCC and its reconciliation, most overseas bridge churches and other concerned parties have taken reconciliation as the central theme of their relations with the Chinese Church.  For example, Geoffery King (1992, 4-25), an Australian Jesuit canon lawyer, has tried to defend bishops of the OC.  He has suggested that "removal of the allegation of excommunication would be an immensely positive step on the road to reconciliation."  Though there have been breaches of communion between China and the universal Church and also among groups of Chinese Catholics, they have neither been a total breach nor a schism. But division needs to be healed.  According to King, though there are many obstacles to reconciliation, "they are obstacles in the area of human relations rather than obstacles of theological or canonical principle."

While people who regard themselves as brothers of the Chinese faithful, are filled with hope and working hard towards reconciliation, there are some scholars who, warn of a hidden danger from division.  They see this danger as coming especially from the radicals, whom they fear might become fundamentalists.  Fr. John B. Chiang (1991, 16), president of the Chinese Clergy and Religious Association in North America, points out,

The most difficult obstacle at the present time is how to placate the 'die hards' -- those underground lay persons who seem to be intransigent. Their unyielding attitude seems, for the time being, to blind them to the present reality. Some feel that when reconciliation is achieved and unity restored, they will be the ones most likely to leave the church. . . .  we must not ignore the needs of the 'die hards.'  We must reach out to them in fraternal concern for their healing and salvation."

Eugene Flameygh, a Church historian from Belgium teaching in the Philippines, has shown a historical view on "confessors" which has a bearing on today's reconciliation in China.  E. Flameygh (1995, 103-64) takes an example from the persecution under Emperor Decius (245Ð251) when there were many more apostates than martyrs.  Many of these apostates were priests and bishops.  After the persecutions, the apostates wanted to come back. Many confessors refused such reconciliation.  However, the great Church opted for reconciliation, as it has always done ever since (See also Bihlmeyer and TŸchie 1952, 14-19).  Another example is the unsworn bishops during the Napoleonic persecutions, who suffered violently but refused to resign despite being called to do so by the new Concordat between Napoleon and the pope.  They too created difficulties in the Church (Flameygh 1995, 198-99).  This is also mentioned with great anxiety by the UC's bishops in a proposal for the Holy See in 1993:  "We Chinese bishops clearly recall the lessons learned about church-state relations from the Napoleonic period in France: Those who were in the right became wrong, while those who were in the wrong became right (Chinese Bishops' Conference [unofficial] 1994, 32-34).  Indeed, today's Chinese Catholic experience finds parallels in history. In the words of Flameygh (private correspondence from E. Flameygh; also see Sunday Examiner 1996, 3):

There are quite some parallels with what happened in China with a Catholicism which refused to obey the omnipotent state all the way.  And there is no doubt in my mind that, for a first time, the church survived on the basis of the non heroic majority.  The hard line confessors would have made this impossible.  Their stance became  fundamentalist pharisaism and Pharisee in Jesus' language means "Separated one".  A church of heroes will never have many members; cannot become a "People".  But it must also be considered that this non heroic church was strengthened into overcoming the Empire by the faith and the example of martyrs and confessors. . . .  Our time has not been different.  The Vatican again had to neutralize confessors like Cardinal Mindszenty and bishop Slipyi in order to get some elbow room in communist Eastern Europe.  And time and again, most believers go in some kind of hiding, hoping for a better time.  Heroes, martyrs and confessors are the seed of Christianity, as Tertulian already said in his own way. But history itself belongs to the great masses of very common people.

This historical review by E. Flameygh is both inspiring and worrisome.  It presents a worthwhile lesson for the CCC and the Vatican in facing and dealing with the problems of division and reconciliation as well as in negotiating new relations with Beijing. People and history are waiting to see what the UC and OC are going to do toward reconciliation today and tomorrow.  Will they strive toward a "wide reconciliation" as Jesus had done in his time, or will they settle for a "narrow reconciliation" as some confessors had done in Church history?  All depends on them. This discussion will lead us to see reconciliation in a general way and finally, in chapter 4, to have a look at and to learn a lesson from Jesus, God himself and a true reconciler.


At the present time, studies relating to Chinese contextual Christology are limited.  We may however present the work of two persons in this section, Aloysius B. Chang and C. S. Song.

As we mentioned above, Chang thinks the CCC is at an ecclesiological impasse. In his view, "one of the possible ways the CCC can begin to free herself from the present ecclesiological impasse is through the adoption of a Christological and Trinitarian approach."  Chang (1992, 64-65) further points out,

The mystery of the Church leads to the mystery of Christ. . . .  The beautiful image of the Cosmic Christ is boundless and liberating, taking us far beyond the narrow confines of such structural concerns as the role of church leadership, the validity of its sacraments, or the nature of the local church vis-a-vis the universal church, to mention but a few.  It focuses rather on the cosmic power of Jesus Christ, which embraces all humanity and "all things created under heaven.

Chang suggests that we begin to "think Christologically and act ecclesially"; that is, to regard Jesus as  central in the life of the church and its mission and to build up a sound Christology in encountering Christ in China.

A well-known Chinese Protestant theologian C. S. Song presents yet another new Christology for the Asian continent in his books,  Jesus, the Crucified People; Jesus and the Reign of God; and  Jesus in the Power of the Spirit.  In the, he draws attention to the many cries or voices of men and women who have entered into controversy with God.  Song's hope (1989, x) is that "they will be willing to exercise their theological imagination and put themselves in the continent of Asia dominated not by Christianity but by other religions and cultures."  This kind of Christology is from below, that is, beginning from the basis of human experience, rather than from above, which starts by first trying to impose dogma and canon law.  To stand on the side of the masses and then to look upon Jesus and the reality of human problems is a basic position in this form of Christology.

From 1981 to 1987 division was disgraceful for the CCPA and CCG which urged and enforced the theory and policy of independence and the three self autonomies.  Struggles between the UC and OC were not forceful and violent in the early 1980s.  The power conflicts between Vatican and Beijing focused on the appointment of bishops.  The CCC took many actions in defense of independence and autonomy rather than reconciliation.  On the other hand, the Vatican and the pope often eulogized those who suffered for the faith and the Holy See.  They also emphasized the importance of loyalty and of being in full communion with the successor of Saint Peter.  The issue of division was brought into the open at the end of the 1980s through the 13 Points.  The conflict between the OC and UC became more manifest and heated in the 1990s.  Several documents about division and unity with the OC were issued by the UC. At the same time, the OC started to pray and to express the desire for full communion with the Holy See.  Even the CCG adopted a new policy toward the whole CCC and the Vatican, thus preparing for future diplomatic relations.  Meanwhile, the loyal and heroic UC suddenly discovered that its mission in defending the faith would soon be at an end.  Its leaders expressed their worries and anxieties over their future fate on many occasions, as well as through documents.  Thus, the whole CCC has experienced a call to move from division to reconciliation, while the Vatican and Beijing find themselves faced with the task of moving from a position of confrontation to that of dialogue.

When we investigate division and reconciliation we discover some surprising issues and developments in their history.  These new discoveries, in a sense, are really out of character from that which I planned at the beginning of my study.  Some are even beyond the original scope and estimate of the thesis proposal.  These issues and developments certainly broaden our view.  To counter the conflicts and move towards dialogue, we must delve into historical, political, canonical, and cultural reflections so as to try to remove prominent obstacles in the way of reconciliation and unity.  This will be the focus of the following chapters.  The difficulties posed by the limitations of the Chinese contextual Christology to the work of reconciliation will also offer us a huge field of study in the future chapters.