Chapter II - Cultural and Theological Aspects of Division and Reconciliation

Resources »EAPR »East Asian Pastoral Review 1997 »Chapter Ii Cultural And Theological Aspects Of Division And Reconciliation

Today China is undergoing constant change, the Chinese Catholic Church (CCC) is continuously evolving, and the Vatican is continuously adapting its policy towards China.  In studying China and the CCC as well as the division and its causes, we must begin from a dynamic angle rather than a static one, as the latter option is a dangerous one.  Robert Schreiter insists that "If the sources of conflict are not named, examined, and taken away, reconciliation will not come about."  In other words "genuine reconciliation must meet and face its causes  squarely" (Schreiter 1992a, 23-24).

Division is caused by varied conflicts.  Conflicts happen not only among Chinese Catholics but also between the Chinese Communist Government (CCG) and the Vatican.  In this chapter, we focus on a number of main sources of conflict and obstacles to reconciliation and unity.  The strong conflict between the CCG and the CCC is a political issue marked by misunderstanding and hostility.  It also involves a canonical debate as to the legitimacy of certain bishops.  As such, political, diplomatic, historical, canonical, ecclesiological impasses arise and completely block the way toward reconciliation and unity.


In examining the views and doctrines proper to both communism and Catholicism, one will begin to realize that they are diametrically opposed to each other.  Political conflict is thus the inevitable outcome. Communism is atheistic in outlook, whereas Catholicism is God-centered.  Catholicism and communism have often been described as water and fire by many missionaries as well as by some Catholics.  Water and fire are antagonistic.  They are not harmonious.


The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regarded religion as "the opium of the people" for a long time, following Marx's dictum.  In fact, the CCP believes that even though religion might exist for a long time in a socialist society, it will eventually disappear (Guangming Daily 1995 quoted in Inside the China Mainland 1995, 74-77).  In church teaching as expounded by some popes, communism was regarded as unjust and evil.  Indeed Elmer Wurth (1985a, 1-2) has sifted twenty radical terms used by Pope Pius XI in reference to atheistic communism.  For example,

its ideas and teachings reek of falsehood; plague; counterfeit; pseudo; systematic violence; full of errors and deceits; hateful and inhuman ugliness; a truly diabolical propaganda; poison; a terrible fellowship of scoundrels; insolent and lying conceits; dangerously false opinions; dangerous enemy; powers of darkness; extremely grave danger; abominable fictions;  monstrous evils of communism. . . .

Perhaps Pius XI never expected China would fall under an atheistic communist party's leadership.  This encyclical was aimed principally at Russian communism in the 1930s. In fact, it was for the collapse of the Soviet Union that Catholics prayed so  fervently for, in accordance with the Fatima message, both before and after the outbreak of the October Revolution (John Paul II 1994a, 131).  Obviously there was no particular intention to refer to the CCG. 

Still, Pius XI's strong condemnation of communism in Divini Redemptoris has had a great influence on the Church's stance towards Red China and Chinese Catholics.  To him "communism is intrinsically wrong and no one who wishes to defend Christian civilization against extinction may collaborate with it in any way whatsoever" (Wurth 1985a, 2).  This view of a former Roman pontiff put the CCC in a precarious position before and after the CCP took over China.  It poses a very sensitive problem for Chinese Catholics, even today.  Forty years after the issue of the encyclical, a noted Chinese theologian's thought may help us to see its subsequent influences on some of his compatriots' moods with respect to atheistic communism.  Fr. Aloysius B. Chang (1988, 44-45), the provincial of the Jesuit China province in Taiwan, in arguing for an improved diplomatic relationship between Rome and Beijing also verbalizes some fears of the UC:

Would such a stress on the diplomatic dimension downgrade the heroic witness of many Catholics who have remained faithful to the communion with Rome? Would they not say, "We are opposed to atheism, and in our struggle against it, we have a living symbol, the Pope in Rome. However, if this same pope, a clear symbol of resistance to atheism, should recognize the atheist socialist regime of  the PRC by establishing diplomatic relations with it, what about us?" No doubt these many Catholics would feel deeply hurt by such an action on the part of the Roman Pontiff.

How does the Underground Church (UC) in China view atheistic communism in relation to faith?  It seems that the UC is as fierce in its opposition to the atheistic socialist regime as it is in remaining faithful to the pope.  It also seems to think that it is a Catholic duty and responsibility to oppose communism.

Shall Catholics fight against atheistic communism? Are Catholicism and communism really so opposed to each other?  Is cooperation really impossible?  What did Pius XI actually call Catholics to undertake in his encyclical at the time?  Is it only to fight against communism?  Joseph Kirwan has carefully studied the  essence of the statement.  According to Kirnan, Pius XI's call was to a vigorous mission to fight against injustice rather than communism.  His was primarily a call to engage in God's work of preaching the Gospel especially to the poor and to right the injustices done to them.  "In this encyclical no support can be found for mere anti-communism. It is injustices which provide the base from which communists move to success. . . .  It is the injustices, not the communists, which have to be removed" (Wurth 1985a, 4).

Unfortunately, most neglected Pius XI's penetrating insight on the injustice afflicting the poor and chose rather to emphasize his strong language against communism.  Consequently, what could have served as a common ground for cooperation between Catholicism and communism was neglected.  Worse still, this encyclical was further misinterpreted and misunderstood in China.  Pius XI had also stated that people should not be against communism in a brutal and inhuman way.  It is not a secret that in early 1950 most missionaries and Chinese seminarians who were expelled and fled from China expected the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP) to return with the American forces to re- occupy Mainland China and defeat the communists.  Some elderly Chinese Catholics even remember being requested by missionaries to wait for their return within three years.  With such an attitude toward communism, it is no wonder that the encounter between the CCC and the CCP/G in 1949 would be characterized by hostility and suspicion.


It appears from present-day discussion that Roman Church leadership had put Chinese Catholics and the CCC in a dilemma since the beginning of new China.  The following discussion hopes to aid us further in seeing groups such as the missionaries, the Vatican, and the CCP/G as direct causes of the conflict.  Since the nineteenth century, missionaries had been coming to China to evangelize the Chinese with privileges, while under the protection of European colonial forces and also of unjust treaties and pacts between China and the European powers.  This was why missionaries and Christianity tended to be identified with colonialism and were seen as assistant invaders in Chinese eyes (Johnson 1981, 17; Adeney 1981, 53-54).  The European-Christian-Confucians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Matteo Ricci, all but disappeared from Chinese society.  Except for a notable few such as F. Lebbe, imperialistic missionaries dominated the CCC up to the early 1940s.  The Chinese hierarchy was only established in 1946.  Before that time, the Chinese were regarded as second-class believers, and likewise its clergy.  In the past many Chinese would often sarcastically remark, "One more Christian, one less Chinese."  Was their remark unreasonable? With this in mind, can we still hold on to the view that the CCG's perception in the 1950s of missionaries and of the Vatican as imperialists or instruments of imperialists in invading China, was caused only by the former's atheistic doctrines?

Clearly the missionaries' attitudes and the Vatican's diplomatic policy toward China in the past were contributory to, if not the main causes of, conflict.  There were times when Rome's policy was very controversial and difficult to understand.  For instance, in 1934 Pius XI recognized the puppet Manchukuo government which was supported by the Japanese invaders, thus making the Vatican one of only a few states which established diplomatic relations with Manchukuo.  The bishop of Jilin diocese, Augustius E. Caspris, was appointed the Holy See's representative there (China Catholic Communication 1993, 70).  Five years later, in 1939, when the Chinese were fighting against the Japanese, Archbishop Mario Zanin, who was sent from Rome to China as the delegate of the pope, in a pastoral letter required all Chinese clergy to maintain a neutral attitude toward the Japanese invaders.  After the Second World war, Zanin asked for forgiveness from the CNP/G and reconciled with the Nanjing government in 1945.

It may be worthwhile to question the wisdom of compromising with the Manchurian puppet government.  Although it seemed to be beneficial to the Church at the time, we need to weigh this perceived advantage against the resulting adverse opinion of the Church and the CCC in the eyes of the Chinese people and the CCP/G.  One wonders how, in following the policy of the Vatican, some Church leaders could compromise with Japanese invaders who killed millions of Chinese, but could not compromise with the atheistic CCP/G, who killed fewer Catholics in the 1940s.

During the civil war the first internuncio, Antonio Riberi, in his Christmas message of 1947, vehemently condemned the CCP as a rebel force which endangered the country and its people (Luo and Wu 1986, 4).  Likewise in June 1949 Catholics were told by the Rome Curia not to:

1.Join or side with the CCP;

2.Publish, spread, read and contribute to those books,newspapers, journals, or even newsletters which protected communism;

3.Receive holy communion if Catholics consciously participated in the above prohibitions.

4. If Catholics accept or even defend the spread of communist atheism and anti-Christianism, they will be regarded as betrayers of the Catholic faith and be excommunicated by the Holy See (Luo and Wu 1986, 8).

Further an anticommunist decree banning children from attending communist youth organizations was issued to the world by the Holy See in July 1950 (China Missionary Bulletin 1950, 771).  These policies toward the CCP, of course, seemed very normal for Rome for after all the CCP espoused an atheistic ideology.  But how did these affect the position of the Chinese Catholics, when the CCP took over China in 1949?  One wonders if the Roman Curia ever considered the consequences the Chinese Catholics would have to suffer under the CCP's rule.  Chinese Catholics became the ultimate victims, as they were unable to defend themselves or to flee from China.  Of course, they were often honored and encouraged by anticommunists as "heroes of the faith."  However, it is questionable whether we could equate their suffering under atheist communism with loyalty to the faith because being anticommunist does not necessarily mean having a stronger faith.  Within such a historical and political context is it any wonder that conflict and hostility between the CCC and the CCP/G would result?


Under the leadership of Dr. Sun Yatsen, the founder of Tongmenhui, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown on 10 October 1911.  The republic was established in 1912.  The Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuo Min Tang (KMT) was founded in 1919 (Republic of China 1990, 25).  It combined the liberal ideology of the "three principles of the people"-- principles of nationalism, democracy, and the people's livelihood, with a Leninist party structure and an indoctrinated party army.  It was a loose amalgam of different components which admitted members of the CCP and warlords.  It also had close relations with imperialists (Twitchett and Fairbank 1989, 44-45) and tolerated religions and organizations not opposed to it.  There is no record of any major conflict between the CNP/G and the Church in their teaching and practice since the founding of the CNP, except during the time of the Restore Educational Rights Movement from 1924 till after the success of the Northern Expedition which caused the Church many problems (Whyte 1988, 154-72).

It is common knowledge that Dr. Sun and Jiang Jieshi were Christians, and there is no doubt that the CNP owed a great debt to the influence of Christian modernism (Whyte 1988, 139).  In Chinese Christian circles, there is a popular story of how the general Feng Yuxiang had all his regiments baptized with a water hose (McAleavy 1969, 236).  The Chinese Nationalist Government (CNG) adopted a policy of "separation of church and state."  For example, the CNG never bothered with religious matters such as the appointment of  bishops in Taiwan.  Under these  circumstances, the CNP did not cause too much trouble to the CCC.  On the contrary, their relationship was characterized by mutual aid, understanding, and cooperation.  For example, the CNG forgave Zanin's serious political blunder and reconciled with the Vatican in 1946 (Luoguang 1996, 8).  However, in the 1950-60s such a reconciliation was easily perceived in China as an instance of collusion between the revolutionaries and the imperialists.

The Chinese Communist Party was established in July 1921 after the pattern of the Russian Bolshevik Party (Jia et al. 1981, 145).  The CCP differed from the CNP not  only by doctrine, but also by discipline.  The atheistic CCP with its tighter discipline and cohesion of leadership became a strict organization. Influenced by Russian religious policy, the CCP was against the development of any religion in China.  These characteristics led the CCP to dislike the CCC and its close relations with imperialists, colonialists, and the CNP in the 1920s to the 1930s.  However, there was no violent conflict between the CCP and CCC, even if some Catholics were harassed in the domain of Jiangxi Soviet at the time.

Actually, the early face-to-face encounters between the CCP and CCC were  quite friendly.  Chinese from older generations, including Catholics, once had a good opinion of the communist soldiers, for instance the Eighth Route Army who really respected the masses by observing the "Eight Principles and Notices" in contrast to the quite corrupt CNP armies who often harassed the people in the 1940s.  Still, many Catholics preferred the CNP to the atheist CCP before 1949.

We need to consider both sides of the story.  On the one hand, the CCP had murdered Catholics, especially venerated monks, in the 1940s.  On the other hand, the Catholics' tendency to favor the CNP provoked and promoted hostility from the CCP. Most of the Chinese population were educated by the CNP/G in the 1930s to the 1940s and the CNG's public education programs did not give them a good impression of the atheistic CCP.  This can be seen even in Taiwan today. The CCC's plight is thus also caused by the differences and the power struggle between these two parties.

Before 1949 the CCC had two encounters with the CCP/G. Although blessed with a wonderful beginning, both encounters had a tragic end, which led to the rupture of the CNP and CCP relationship.  The first encounter involved Father Lebbe, the founder of the Chinese Catholic North China Battlefield Mass Service Group, who had aided the armies of the CNP and the CCP during the war of resistance against Japan.  The commander Zhude once attended a requiem mass and offered Lebbe 100 yuan for the rites for the deceased soldiers.  Zhu also promised Lebbe future assistance if needed. This direct contact showed that the patriotism of both Catholics and communists held the promise of cooperation between these two seemingly incompatible ideologies for the benefit of the country (Zhao 1985, 62-63 quoted in Leung 1992, 74-75).  But this cordial relationship was to last as long as the Second United Front period, from 1937 to 1940.  As the situation deteriorated thereafter, the CCC was plunged into crisis and Lebbe came to be regarded by the CCP as a spy of the CNP. He was arrested and ill treated. Leung's research on the CCP's religious policy provides strong evidence.

Indications of the coming rift between the KMT and CCP were first felt by the catholic service group, before the defeat of the Japanese. The arrest of service group members who were sent to the Red area in Hebei to purchase grain, the killing of twelve religious Brothers of Fr. Lebbe's congregation, and the detention of Lebbe himself by the New Fourth Army commanded by Liu Baicheng in March 1940 at Yiuchuan, Hebei, marked the break-down of relations between the CCP and the Catholic service group which by that time was under the patronage of Chiang Kai Shek himself (Ziyau 1963, 320-59).

In Chinese history there were three periods of cooperation between the CNP and  CCP from the time of their inception.  The first began in 1924.  Some members of the CCP attended the CNP's first national congress and were elected members or alternate members of the CNP's Central Executive Committee.  Their members then worked together at the well-known Whampoa Military Academy.  But these good times ended with the outbreak of the second civil war (1927-1937).  There was, however, no armed conflict between the CCP and CCC at the time.

After the September 18th Incident in 1931 and the Xian Incident in 1936, the Anti-Japanese National United Front took shape.  This was the second time of cooperation for the two parties by way of cessation of hostilities toward each other and together fighting the Japanese.  It was also in part the CCP's first encounter with the CCC through Father Lebbe, who would become the victim of the former's struggle with the CNP.

After the Second  World War, the third period of cooperation started in 1946 when the two parties signed a truce agreement. Unfortunately, after a few months the third civil war (1946-1949) broke out.  The CCP then encountered the CCC for a second time, in a hostile manner, at Yangjiaping, the oldest monastery in the Far East. For the CCC, the monastery, monks, and nearby Catholics were the first victims of the third civil war. The monastery's political condition, its close relationship with the CNP, its strategic geographical position as well as the French government, as pointed out by Leung, determined the Cistercians' tragic fate as victims of the power struggle.

Further, the CCC also became a victim of China's struggle with the Western anticommunists forces in the 1950s. For example, the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China was an act of political revenge on the Americans, a consequence of the conflict between China and the United States during the Korean War (Leung 1992 [Chinese Edition], 126).

Aside from the above, perhaps the worst wound  inflicted on the CCC was the CCP's demand that Catholics be independent from the Holy See, and that Chinese bishops be consecrated without the pope's consent, in contravention of canon law.  This issue is still a key question in the as yet unresolved Sino-Vatican relations.  And it still remains a highly sensitive problem in international relations (Leung 1992, 92).


The major issue of contention among Chinese Catholics is the appointment of bishops.  This issue will have to be addressed in future negotiations between the Vatican and Beijing.  Currently there are so-called legal bishops recognized by the pope through secret channels, with most of them being unapproved by the CCG.  These unapproved bishops are termed "underground bishops" by the CCG.  There are also the so-called illicit bishops who are not recognized by the Vatican but approved by the CCG.  These bishops are called "open bishops" or "patriotic bishops."  They are mostly elected by their priests and then accepted by the government.  There are also some bishops who have received recognition and approval from both the Vatican and the CCG.  The CCG insists that the Vatican's appointment of bishops is an interference in China's domestic affairs.  The pope, however, emphasizes that appointment of bishops is a purely religious matter and that the Vicar of Christ has the right to appoint bishops freely, without external influence or control.

The labeling of bishops as legal or illicit, approved or unapproved influences how the common Catholics see their bishops.  These labels have become the standard for many Catholics in judging bishops as good or bad.  Ecclesiastical legal principles are often stressed, and these principles have emerged not only as the primary means for judging the loyalty of Catholics and the quality of bishops but have also become cruel weapons in the hands of people both in and outside China as they decide whom to support and whom to attack.  As news of Roman legal principles and guidelines that overseas visitors have brought in became known, Catholics within China gradually began to take legal principles as principles of faith.  The most important reason for following a particular bishop was whether he was legitimate according to canon law.  Further, they have also become the standard for accepting the sacraments administered by these bishops.  Nevertheless many Catholics, who are aware of the labeling of their bishops, have chosen to continue to recognize their bishops and receive sacraments administered by them.  This choice, as well as the choice of other Catholics to shun certain bishops, continues to deepen the rift in the Church.  Some others from the overseas churches have also joined in this endless debate, which has reached an impasse.


Knowing these sources of conflict, clarify for us the reasons for the division.  Reconciliation can only come about if the sources of conflict are named, examined, and  removed.  After becoming aware of these sources of conflict, we may now move on to consider the obstacles in the way of reconciliation and unity.


Hostility is a common enemy of all humanity and it rears its ugly head everywhere: between individuals, within families, communities, tribes, societies, and countries.  The Church, although holy, is also part of the world and so experiences hostility as well.  Hostility to the CCG was apparent in the church's teaching in the forties and the fifties.  This hostility was reciprocated after 1949 on the part of the CCG in new China, especially during the Cultural Revolution.  Many Catholics, especially the clergy but also including missionaries and lay leaders, were imprisoned, maltreated, and sent into forced labor.  Some others lost their lives for the faith and for remaining in  communion with the pope.  Churches were desecrated, used for secular purposes, and even destroyed.  Aspects of religious life such as the mass and the other sacraments were suppressed. All schools, hospitals, and other Church organizations or enterprises were confiscated by the state.  Many Catholics were hurt by the CCG's policy of forbidding them to recognize the pope as their spiritual leader or even to pray for him.  After 1977 many cases of miscarriage of justice surfaced in China, and were finally redressed when the CCG took steps to restore the reputation of Catholics, including clergy, who had been wrongly accused.  However, removing the hostility caused by these injustices will take time.

Such hostility was clearly shown by some bishops. For example, Bishop Fan, the one who first ordained underground bishops, mocked the officials during his detention at Baoding church in 1989.  "Your communists' time is no more.  Your big brother the Soviet Union has collapsed.  Your communist Party shall be next."  Meanwhile in the Church, the UC and the Open Church (OC) attack each other with hostility.  The publication of the "13 Points" is an example of such antagonism from the UC. 

On the international stage, the social phenomenon of hostility against communism has been widespread.  Being a priest from China, I can clearly sense such hostility toward the CCP/G through my conversations and interaction with others.  The hostility of American and other Western anti-Chinese communist forces are well known.  Let me conclude this section by quoting the words of an American Jesuit in his dissertation on mission and culture.  It may be an  inspiration for us today.

I do not suggest that the Californians could have done anything different in order to maintain their mission, for example, by cooperating with the Chinese Communist regime; nor do I suggest that the Chinese Communist regime would have done anything different than it did, the destruction of the missions. The missionaries and the Communists had reached an impasse which only an exercise of brute power on the part of the Chinese Communists resolved. I do suggest, however, that a less strident attitude toward China and a more flexible negotiating stance on the part of the west, particularly by the United States, could have significantly altered China's treatment of the Christian missionaries (Fleming 1993, 55).


Before 1948 there were 139 dioceses in the whole of China.  These were set up by the Holy See based on ecclesiastical regions.  There are now 113 new dioceses based  on civil boundaries for the CCC.  These new dioceses were a readjustment in the 1980s inside each province for the purpose of facilitating report to the  Chinese Catholic Administrative Conference (CCAC) and Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference (CCBC) for the record (CCC 1987, 25).  The 1984 edition of the Annuario Pontificio had dropped all titles of archbishops and bishops previously held by foreign missioners in China.  What is happening now is that obviously the CCC does not acknowledge the old dioceses and former names.  But these old dioceses were occupied straight away by underground bishops and have continued to exist in the Annuario Pontificio.  In this way the old and new dioceses have become a big issue.

Today one province can be one diocese as in the cases of Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Jiangxi; or there might be several dioceses in one province as in Hebei, Jiangsu, Guangdong, and Shandong.  The provincial government often simply divides each province into one or more dioceses, according to administrative convenience.  For example, there are eight prefectures corresponding to eight dioceses in Hebei province.  We must be aware that there were twelve dioceses in Hebei province in 1948 according to Church statistics (China Catholic Communication 1993, 20).  The differences are not only in the names of the dioceses/prefectures but also in the limits of jurisdiction.  For instance, the limits of the Hebei provinces have been modified by the CCG.  In 1952 the province of Rihe (Jehol) in the northeast and Chaha'er in the  northwest also became part of Hebei.  A little later there were further exchanges of districts with the Shandong and Henan provinces (China Catholic Communication 1993, 51).

The UC only recognizes the old dioceses in China.  Since there is no relationship with Beijing, the Vatican likewise can only recognize the old dioceses.  This phenomenon can easily be proved through the statements of the UC and reports of the overseas church's publications.  The underground pastors are often called the bishops of the old dioceses. For example, "Bishop Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding diocese" is one of the first three underground bishops ordained by J. Fan in 1981.  Zhengding was one of twelve old dioceses in Hebei province in 1948.  Today Zhengding is only a city or town of Shijiazhuang city/diocese according to the government administrative areas.  The provincial government certainly does not recognize Zhengding as a diocese in Hebei, and for its part the UC does not recognize Shijiazhuang as its diocese.  The difficulties are mounting.  There are two bishops in this district.  One is the bishop of Zhengding diocese, who is recognized by the Vatican, and the other is the bishop of Shijiazhuang diocese.  Other similar examples can be found in many provinces for instance, Heilongjiang.  There are also two bishops in this province/diocese.  Liu Huanbo from the OC is regarded as the bishop of Heilongjiang province/diocese by the CCG and OC; while Guo Wenzhi was ordained bishop of Qiqihar diocese by underground bishops.  Qiqihar was one of eleven old dioceses in Manchuria in 1940s, but today it is only one city of Heilongjiang province.  Such cases have become difficult issues for the Vatican and CCG and pose impediments to the administering of sacraments within the CCC.

The worst case is that some bishops, from both old and new dioceses, are recognized by the Vatican as licit bishops in a new diocese within several parts of the old diocese.  As mentioned above, newly divided dioceses are sometimes made up of sections of the old dioceses.  Thus at times there are too many legal bishops within a new  diocese.  The dioceses of Jilin and Xingtai provide typical cases of this phenomenon.  The former Bishop Li Xuesong of Jilin diocese, who passed away in 1994, was licitly ordained pastor both by the CCG and the Vatican in 1985.  At the same time, Han Jingtao was ordained as the licit bishop of Siping diocese by the UC.  The former Siping diocese is only one city or prefecture within today's Jilin province.  As a result there were two legal bishops in Jilin province/diocese from 1985 to 1994.  One sees here that many of these licit bishops cannot unite, not even cooperate in the name of the Holy See.  This is really an extremely awkward situation for the Vatican.  Nevertheless it is imperative that Beijing and the Vatican renegotiate an agreement to divide dioceses, so as to remove this obstacle to reconciliation and unity.

The confused situation regarding old and new dioceses is a great challenge for the  CCC, CCG, and Holy See.  Even the UC feels that there is a need to divide dioceses again (Chinese Bishops' Conference [unofficial] 1994, 32-34).  The old dioceses based on the old administrative areas cannot meet the needs of the CCC.


One can ask: Is the CCC undergoing a period of persecution or of normal conditions in its religious activities and life?  The answer to this question is the key to the proper understanding and use of a series of exemptions given to China by Rome.  These exemptions are meant to be used by the CCC only when it is undergoing a period of persecution and not while existing under normal conditions.  However, it might be possible to view the conditions facing the CCC today as neither completely normal nor characterized by persecutions, but rather as somewhere in between as we shall see below.  Can the exemptions continue to operate under such "special conditions"?  No doubt, the backgrounds of both the UC and OC must be taken into consideration if we want to see clearly their complex circumstances and so arrive at the correct answers.

As is known to all, the underground bishops and priests have often been detained and are still being arrested; their religious activities have also been frequently suspended or completely forbidden; their seminaries, convents, and churches have even been many a time closed, disbanded, and even destroyed by public security men.  We will not allow ourselves to be bogged down in endless debates as to whether or not the UC has observed  the laws and principles of the CCG for religious activities.  The fact is that their religious activities and identity are illegal in the eyes of the CCG.  And the eyes of the UC and foreigners, who always favor political or religious dissenters, China has been undergoing a time of religious persecution.  If this is true, there is the right to use the exemptions, including the right to ordain many simply trained priests for meeting pastoral needs such as administering sacraments in any diocese.

By contrast, the OC is enjoying a certain amount of freedom of religious belief when compared to the time of the Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao.  They for their part substantiate this claim by, for example, pointing to the number of churches, seminaries, convents they have established; the priests and sisters they have trained; the clinics, orphanages, homes for the aged homes they have set up; the spiritual, theological, and scriptural books, newspapers, magazines, pictures, and Bibles they have published; catechumens they have baptized; their visits to overseas churches and opportunities for studies abroad.  In contrast with the past, as during the terrible Cultural Revolution, a bishop has even expressed satisfaction that "the last 10 years or more have been the most peaceful days of my work in the Church" (see Yi: China Message 1995, 7).  In the eyes of these clergy and faithful, there is of course no longer any persecution.  Obviously for them, the so-called exemptions should not operate.

Can we, therefore, declare that for most of the Chinese Catholics and the CCC, China is under normal religious conditions?  It goes without saying that we should not make such a hasty statement.  This does not mean that we are against human rights and doubt about the CCG's policy of religious freedom.  Rather it is a reminder that there are more important questions and issues challenging the CCG and the Vatican.  Firstly Beijing and the Vatican have not restored diplomatic relations with each other.  Secondly the issue regarding the appointment of bishops has all along placed Chinese pastors, clergy, and the CCC in an awkward position vis-a-vis both Beijing and Rome.  Thirdly freedom of religious belief, as implemented by the CCP, is quite unlike that under CNP rule or even that enjoyed by the people in countries such as Japan, the Philippines, South  Korea, and Singapore.  It is certainly different from the so-called  Western freedom of religious belief.  Although the CCC could be said to be under "normal" conditions, it is also well known that "all patriotic religions organizations must follow the party's and the CCG's leadership" (CCP Central Committee 1982).  For  example, in the same "Document 19", it states clearly that "all places for religious services are under the administrative control of the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB)."  According to Regulations Regarding the Management of Places of Religious Activity issued by the State Council in 1994, "To set up of religious activity, one must go through the process of registration" (Barry 1994, 48).  Without registration the UC and its churches are often regarded as illegal places including its activities.  The problematic question is whether the UC should register itself as any other organization in China or not.  Would it not be wise for the Church to register itself, if it could do so, while at the same time maintaining full communion with the pope?

On the other hand, their many problems in implementing the religious policies of the party also show that the CCC is undergoing  a special time in China. For example, B. Leung argues against this point of Document 19 in the following way: "Both in principle and practice it is most unreasonable of the Beijing government to categorize all the religious activities performed outside church buildings and party supervision as illegal and abnormal."  Leung proves that Bishop K. H. Ting had even admitted this openly in a conference (Ribao quoted in Leung 1992, 128-29).

This may be a special and difficult time for the Chinese Catholics.  But it cannot simply be assessed as being a period of either persecution or normality for them.  More aptly it is a transition period for the CCC.  At this time when the Vatican is hoping to improve its relationship with Beijing, should it not retract these contentious exemptions as soon as possible?  Even though the problem of appointing bishops still remains to be solved, the CCC in the 1990s is no longer in danger of schism.  Nearly all Chinese clergy and Catholics now seek full communion with the universal church and the pope.  Does the UC still need to fulfill the role of defending the faith by opposing the CCPA and CCP?  Again, are the exemptions still necessary? Should not the UC now look for opportunities to come into the open while still remaining in full communion with the universal church?  Nowadays, many foreign professors teach young seminarians and nuns in the open seminaries approved by the CCG.  The new generations have opportunities to receive these normal training programs.  Is the exemption number 7 for ordination still necessary for the CCC? (see Exemptions).  The UC should stop using privileges to ordain young clergy without normal training.  All seminarians should be encouraged by the Vatican to complete the course of theological studies. In addition to improving relations with the CCG, this will also serve the long-term interests of the CCC.

Dialogue and cooperation is the way for the CCC in the decades to come.  Because the Vatican desires wholeheartedly to restore relations with Beijing for the sake of Chinese Catholics, it may not be wise to let these exemptions, which regard China as under going a time of persecution, continue.  The exemptions have become more of a liability than a blessing.  There are indications that the exemptions have been abused.  For instance, some underground pastors abuse the privileges, thereby strengthening their own power.  And it seems that most underground bishops were consecrated before Rome was informed.

It must be said, however, that today, even though it has not rescinded the exemptions, Rome is stricter with its requirements for their exercise, especially in the choosing and consecrating of new bishops.  As can be gathered from messages from the delegate of the Holy See through foreign visitors, bishops of both the UC and OC in one diocese must consult one another before choosing a successor.  They shall have only one successor whom both sides could accept, but not two or three.  Unfortunately, Rome's wishes often go unheeded by these bishops, who still take advantage of and even abuse the exemptions.  As an example, the underground bishop of Tibet, who is suspended by the Vatican, still ordains other clergy.  Because of them, Rome is often forced to recognize the clergy who had been ordained by these bishops without first seeking Vatican consent. We are not concerned with the question of whether the UC is an outcome of these exemptions or not.  The fact is that in this special time they really cause a lot of problems.


The CCPA was set up in 1957 within a charged political atmosphere.  It is one of the five Patriotic Associations (PAs) of the five religions.  It was born at the end of the Hundred Flowers and the Anti-Rightist movements and at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward.  It is a political product rather than a religious institution.  What are the original and new functions of the PA for the government?  By using the CCPA, the CCG had "done away with imperialist influences within the churches," "promoted" the independent, self-governing autonomy of the churches as well as the Three-Self Movement, and "made Catholics cease being tools of imperialist aggression and become an independent, self-governing,  autonomous religious enterprise" in 1950s(CCP Central Committee 1982).  The CCPA's functions were to break away from the Vatican's political and economic control  and even to deny the primacy of the pope.  Document 19 in the 1980s the PAs describes as assistants of the CCG and CCP, but stipulates that the government expected more from the PAs than in the 1950s.

The basic task of these patriotic religious associations is to assist the party and the government carry out and implement its religious policy on the freedom of religious belief, to help the broad mass of religious believers and personages in religious circles to continually raise their awareness of patriotism and socialism, to represent the lawful rights and interests of religious circles, to organize normal religious activities and to manage well religious affairs. . . .  Thus they become in reality a religious group having positive influence, and can act as a bridge between themselves and the party and the government as it carries out its task of winning over, uniting and educating personages in religious circles (CCP Central Committee 1982).

For the government, the PA should act as the bridge between the church and the government.  This role of being a bridge is repeatedly expressed in the Document 6 in 1991 as well as on the lips of many leaders of the CCPA.

The point is that if a bridge does not act as a bridge, or if it ceases to function like a bridge, that is, to communicate and unite people with the government, it must at least be repaired if not replaced.  The image of the national CCPA or local PAs is not as good as the government expects.  In the eyes of the UC, the CCPA is a sign of schism from Catholicism.  Surely the points brought up by the underground bishops in the "13 Points" and "My Vision of the CCPA," are not merely figments of their imagination. Some of the events they describe really happened in the 1950s to the 1980s. Even today, things of this sort still occur in the PA.  Hence the rejection of the PA by the UC is not surprising.

The Catholics of the OC also have a poor opinion of the PA.  On the one hand, many people have no alternative but to join the PA for pastoral convenience under the state law. On the other hand, many people think the PA untrustworthy.  They believe PA was developed as a political tool rather than as a peaceful bridge between Catholics and the government.  Bishop Ma Ji bravely and mercilessly castigated not only the CCPA but also the CCBC and CCAC in his famous "My Statement."  Bishop Ma Ji represents large numbers of Catholics and clergy share the same views. In the eyes of the many ordinary Chinese and foreigners, the CCPA is always regarded as a new church -- "the patriotic church" -- from which they keep a respectful distance.  Foreign publications frequently criticize the CCPA for acting as the head of the CCC.  Somehow the CCPA has become a stumbling block to international relations.  The CCG is well aware of the fact that the PA does not function or act well as a bridge between Catholics and the CCG/P, even though the CCPA tries, to cover up its deficiencies by giving positive reports.  The fact of the matter is that all three organizations, the CCPA, CCAC, and CCBC, are not fulfilling their proper roles and need to be reformed in terms of its structure and system under the principles of Document 3.

The deficiencies of the CCPA are at least a contributory factor to the UC's opposition to the CCG.  They have also resulted in the CCG having to waste much energy in managing the difficult situation.  Given these facts, one wonders why the  CCG does not disband this broken bridge that is the CCPA.  It was "repaired" several times in 1989 and 1991 through two documents.  Unfortunately this bridge is still unstable and does not function as an effective bridge. It may be better to replace it with a new one that can achieve a wider cooperation between the CCG, the CCP, and the CCC.

Short of the ideal of replacing the PA with a brand new organization, another, albeit more difficult, way forward would be to try to reform the CCPA.  There are already examples of attempts having been made in this direction.  For instance, Liaoning diocese and Shenyang church were under the control of the PA for a long time.  Although the image of the PA among Catholics was very bad at the time.  When bishops Zhang Hualiang and Jin Peixian took over the governance of the diocese, they united all the forces of Catholics and the government cleaned up the team of the PA.  All the bad members in the PA were replaced by good Catholics.


As a result of the above difficulties, a statement in the relationship between Beijing and the Vatican resulted, which in itself is a big obstacle.  Some scholars feel that the CCC has drawn itself into an ecclesiological impasse.  However, the underlying cause of this deadlock is the impasse in Sino-Vatican relations, which in turn gives rise to a whole series of other problems and issues: doing away with the control of the Vatican, self-election and consecration of bishops, condemnation, exemptions, division, general control, reconciliation and unity.

 In fact, improving Sino-Vatican relations is a key to reconciliation. It can provide the opportunity towards obtaining a situation where the OC will no longer deny the primacy of the pope and the UC will no longer have to make use of the privileges.  Indeed, Rome would no longer need to issue privileges to the CCC.  Of course, there will still be many problems in the new relations, but the pope will then be able to exercise his pastoral leadership over the CCC through a negotiation with the CCG which also hopes to solve the knotty problem of the UC.  An early restoration of Sino-Vatican ties will, politically speaking, offer the CCC a wide area for its legal existence and activities.  It will also free Chinese Catholics from constant conflict in areas where church-state authorities clash.  In a word, Chinese Catholics can truly live up to their identity as Chinese and also as Catholics.  They can witness to society that being a good Catholic is consistent with being a good citizen.  In all this could be the beginning of a new springtime for the CCC.

What are the real obstacles to an improved Sino-Vatican relationship?  Is it the CCC's rejection of papal authority and election of its own bishops without Vatican approval?  Or is it the Vatican's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and the CCG's perception that it is interfering in internal Chinese religious matters?  Do these mutual accusations from Rome and Beijing point to the key issues?  Apparently so, but perhaps not.  We need to go deeper into the issues if we are to cut the Gordian knot.  Several observations can be made.  Firstly it is well known that religious life has improved remarkably in China in recent years (see Heyndrickx 1996, 138-45).  Secondly there are many examples of countries who recognize both Beijing and Taiwan with a one-China policy.  And finally the Vatican dialogues with many other nations in appointing bishops.  Most likely Beijing will not deny the primacy of the Holy See and even its right to appoint bishops.  But the sharp issue which remains is how much power should Beijing and the Vatican have in the administration of the CCC, and especially in the appointment of bishops.  In the paradigm of "separation of church and state" as practice in Taiwan, India, and South Korea, the state does not take an interest in appointing bishops.  This is left to the Holy See or the national bishops' college.  But "the relationship between the CCP/G and the religious organizations in China is that of leading and being led" (Liu Peng 1995, 6).  Does not Beijing only want a balance in distributing power with the Vatican?  Some sensitive issues concerning their relations may be worth pointing out.

Firstly the CCP and the Vatican subscribe to opposing ideologies and have often experienced conflict in the past.  Although Rome has adopted an attitude of dialogue since Vatican II, together with the European world it still espouses anticommunism.  Was the collapse of the former Soviet Union caused by some influence from the Vatican?  Beijing is quite unhappy with such an outcome.  The fear that religion could be used to subvert the state accounts for the strict way in which Beijing treats all religions, especially  Catholicism (Sunday Examiner 1996, 1).  How could Beijing have a good impression of the Vatican after that?  Secondly the Vatican as well as most of the European countries has always welcomed China dissenters such as the Dalai lama who is regarded as a peacemaker by the West,  but a troublemaker and separatist by Beijing.  Beijing has made a strong note of protest to the United States and other countries, over what it perceives to be interference in its domestic matters.  Such is not a friendly gesture from Rome, in the eyes of Beijing.  And one way for the latter to protest and retaliate is not to have relations with Rome.  Thirdly Beijing deeply detests those who accuse China of abusing human rights.  The Vatican stands on the side of the loyal Catholic group who often complain that the CCG's "general control" policy and its implementation is equivalent to persecution.  The real and sensitive situation is even more complex, hence the greater need for dialogue and cooperation between the CCP and the Vatican.


The Church is the body of Christ and she must be faithful to her mission to act as Christ's "light" for the world.  Many Chinese Catholics pay great attention to the issue of division and engage in endless debates on canonical matters, whilst ignoring the rapid developments and changes in Chinese society.  The dangers of such an attitude has precedents in church history.  The post-Reformation church, for instance, was so inward-looking that it neglected to act as a leaven during the Enlightenment.  The Church reacted to new developments by taking a defensive and conservative position, rather than considering the new possibilities offered by such a development.


The Council of Trent articulated Catholic doctrine on faith and grace, defined the sacraments, and created the Index of Forbidden Books.  The era of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which were marked by religious fervor and holiness -- veneration of saints, Marian devotions, and eucharistic adoration -- were also characterized by hostility toward the Protestants (McBrien 1994, 632-53).  Meanwhile secularism took shape in European Christendom when the two churches were busy debating and defending their doctrines.  The source of secularism,  a very vague and profane anthropology, may be traced to the scientific discoveries of the Renaissance and Enlightenment (Dwyer 1994, 874).  Later the Church did not act as a light to guide people in the era of industrialization and modernization -- though secularism had become a great challenge to all churches and has remained an enemy of Christianity since the sixteenth century.

At the present time China is at a turning point in its history.  Its economy is forging ahead at a tremendous pace.  But with modernization and industrialization, the gap between poor and rich regions has become more pronounced.  Materialism and individualism are influencing many people.  Ideologies cannot satisfy the younger generations. Catholics are tired of listening to endless debates on legal issues.  Indeed, we must stop debating, so as to consider the needs of society.  This, however, is an urge to focus, not to exclude.

These new developments coming from modernization will surely affect the Chinese culture in general and the Church in particular.  For instance, homes for the aged are increasing in Taiwan and emerging in Mainland China.  Urban life has broken up into smaller units many traditional Chinese families that once had three even four or five generations living close together.  As a result, more and more elderly are neglected by their children who are busy making money and preoccupied with modern life.

Bishop Aloysius Jin (1995b, 14) has expressed his worries about modernization, saying that he is not afraid of persecution because persecution had not caused the CCC to die, but that he is quite afraid of the hedonism and money worship that comes from materialism.  To face this sort of challenge, one of the roles of the Church must be to make people aware of this development and of the crisis this causes for the traditional culture; and to help people redefine, express, and develop the traditional Chinese culture in the context of modernization.  In this way Chinese culture will be rejuvenated, thus retaining its identity in a new context.


Reconciliation in Chinese heritage of culture and society must be a basic common ground for both the UC and OC.  Those who play the lead role in the course of division and reconciliation are mostly the Chinese Catholics.  The Chinese diaspora and those foreigners who are deeply concerned about the CCC should also have an interest in Chinese culture.  Their knowledge of Chinese culture, values, customs, and traditions should lead them to discover a common field in dealing with division and reconciliation.  There is a need for us to behave as brothers who love one another in one Chinese family, as has been stressed by the pope (John Paul II 1995c, 17).

Common faith in Jesus is another key factor in working towards reconciliation in the CCC.  After undergoing tremendous suffering, Chinese Catholics have become much stronger in faith.  As the Council of Trent said,  "Faith is the beginning of human salvation, the foundation and root of all justification" (Denzinger 1532 cited in O'Brien 1993, 80).  Thus faith has been a dynamic source  of strength for them, in the persecutions of the past and in the challenges of today.  In a foreword to the Faith series of books, faith is characterized in the following way:

We concentrate on presenting our compatriots with a lively faith. Even when life is peaceful, we still pass through hardship and distress, and severe ordeals, and (in contemporary society and church) the violent battering of all sorts of trends of thought. However, those who have the Lord in their hearts are usually filled with joy. In faith, they discern God's holy word, they obey his commandments, and, with Christ's ardent love burning within them, the storms do not bend them, and they wisely and faithfully prove the works of God (Dezinger 1532 cited in O'Brien 1993, 80).

There is a real division within the CCC. But it is absolutely different from the divisions that occurred between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and from the religious revolution that Martin Luther started.  The Chinese Catholic division started from a difference of political opinion rather than a controversy of faith.  Up to now, no pope has ever proclaimed the CCC schismatic (King 1992, 17), neither has the Vatican determined which side is right or wrong.  The same faith in Jesus and all these shared elements thus open up wide areas for reconciliation.


Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, and Pius XI had all condemned atheistic communism.  Pope Pius XII issued three pastoral letters addressed to the CCP and CCPA in the 1950s.  The period of confrontation, which began in 1891, ended in the 1960s.  Since their attitudes and policies have been shifting.  Firstly the Holy See moved from a total and undifferentiated condemnation of socialism towards an invitation to discernment (Paul VI [1971] 1981, 38).  Secondly Vatican II adopted a new attitude towards atheism.  "While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live.  Such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue."  The time of hostility, characterized by condemnation and suppression, was replaced by the era of dialogue. Instead of hostility, the church "courteously invites atheists to examine the gospel of Christ with an open mind" (Gaudium et Spes 21-22).

The CCP/G expects Catholics to love their country as well as the Church ("Aiguo Aijiao").  Since 1979 Pope John Paul II, following the example of Pius XII, has been constantly stressing the same idea: there is no opposition or incompatibility in being at the same time truly Christian and authentically Chinese (Wurth 1985a, 139).  By taking every possible opportunity, John Paul II has expressed his love and concern for the Chinese people.  He has also shown his goodwill toward China.  He has urged Chinese Catholics to be good citizens as well as contribute positively to the building up of China and not stand opposite of the nation (Sunday Examiner1995, 6).  He has commended them for proving that they are good faithful as well as good citizens in words and deeds.  Significantly the pope does not recognize the CCBCs of both the UC and the OC.  This may be a hint that the Vatican is paving the way for dialogue and negotiation.

Religious policy in China as a whole is improving.  The CCP/G has modified three Catholic organizations in the 1990s.  The CCBC is no longer subordinate to the CCPA but is on an equal footing with it.  Many local churches and CPA have been purified.  Many incompetent superiors of the CCC have been replaced by emerging younger leaders.  The CCG has recognized the primacy of the pope for the Catholics and allows Catholics to freely pray for him freely.  Still there remains the need for the CCG and the Vatican to forgive each other.  Both must look ahead to the future and seek a better relation.

After investigating some sources of causes and obstacles, we notice two common grounds for reconciliation.  We move from the positive signs to a wider cultural and theological field of reconciliation, so as to deal with the issue of division within the CCC.