When I met with Joseph Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong in 2009, he assured me that “the overwhelming majority of bishops in the official church have sought, and have received, the approval of the Holy Father for their office.” The deep divide between “underground” bishops (ordained by the Pope and rejecting the PCA) and “Patriotic” bishops (illicitly ordained by the PCA) seemed on the way to being healed. The Cardinal said he looked forward to a ‘“normalization” of relations with the government.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. After 10 bishops were ordained with dual approval from Beijing and the Holy See, the tacit arrangement on ordinations broke down in 2010. That was the year that the PCA illicitly ordained a number of unqualified and unapproved candidates as bishops. Chief among these was a Father Guo Jincai whose closeness to the regime is indicated by the fact that he is a member of the National People’s Congress and the vice-chairman of the PCA. The Vatican responded by excommunicating the offending priest, whom it had repeatedly asked not to accept “ordination.”
As for Chinese Catholics themselves, they remain second-class citizens. They are not permitted to join the Chinese Communist Party, which remains officially atheistic. They are not permitted to hold sensitive government positions. And, most tellingly, they are not permitted to join the military. When I asked one Chinese Catholic why this should be so, he replied succinctly, “They do not trust us with guns.”
At this moment, the persecution appears to be growing more intense in a number of provinces aside from Zhejiang province, where the authorities are tearing down churches. Christians of all faiths in neighboring Henan have been warned that they are not allowed to share their faith with those under 18 years of age, even their own children. In trying to check the spread of Christianity, the Chinese Communist Party may be reacting to reports that there are now more Christians in China than communists.
But the big question that Chinese Catholics are now asking themselves is whether this new hostility towards Christians in general, and Catholics in particular, is prelude to a national anti-Christian campaign. The Chinese Communist Party often uses a province or two to “test out” a new policy before embarking upon it nationwide. If what is happening in Zhejiang and Henan provinces are harbingers of the future, then the long-suffering Catholic Church in China has much more to suffer in the years ahead.
And “Shepherd One”—as the press has dubbed the Pontiff’s plane—-will not be landing in Beijing any time soon.
Steven W. Mosheris the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits.