Pope Benedict XVI's letter to Chinese Catholics laid out the problem.
Rome (AsiaNews) — Beijing is prepared to give the Vatican a voice and share in episcopal appointments. Indeed, the Holy See would be granted the right choose between two candidates proposed by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).
China, however is adamant about the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the Communist Party agency that controls Church activities, whose raison d’être — to build a Church independent of Rome — is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine," Pope Benedict XVI said in his Letter to Chinese Catholics.
The aforementioned proposal is not relayed in an official diplomatic letter, but in an article published by the Global Times, an English-language newspaper close to the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.
The article in question quotes an "an anonymous source close to the negotiations" who talked to Hong Kong-based newspaper Wen Wei Po about this overture.
According to the source, prospective episcopal candidates may be elected by diocesan committees, their names given to the Council of Chinese bishops and SARA, which in turn would communicate with the Vatican for consecration, if there is a consensus between the two (SARA and the Holy See). Another possibility would be for the Vatican to choose between two candidates.
The Holy See has never been unwilling to find an agreed way for choosing episcopal candidates, provided that the last word remains with the pope. Benedict XVI himself, in the letter cited above, called for an agreement with the government on choosing and appointing bishops and on getting them recognized by civil authorities.
He also notes that "the appointment of bishops for a particular religious community is understood, also in international documents, as a constitutive element of the full exercise of the right to religious freedom."
Likewise, the pope, when he issues the apostolic mandate for the ordination of a bishop, exercises his supreme spiritual authority. As such, it is not a question of a "political authority, unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a State."
At the same time, the article steadfastly defended the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, noting that "The Vatican seems to hope for more agreements beyond bishop ordination, such as cancelling the CCPA. But that doesn’t appear likely."
To bolster this view, the paper cited Yan Kejia, the director of the Institute of Religious Studies at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, who said, "The CCPA is a result of Catholic development in China and a historic legacy."
The CCPA is indeed part of Maoism’s "historic legacy." Set up by Mao Zedong himself in 1958, it controls the Catholic Church, following the expulsion of all foreign missionaries and the imprisonment of many bishops and priests who wanted to preserve the spiritual link with the pope.
Since China underwent major modernizations and changes, the institution that controls and runs the life of Christian communities has never been touched. Its statutes and ideals call for the establishment of a Church independent of the Holy See, and adapt the Church to socialism (i.e. the party).
As such, it is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine," as Pope Benedict XVI’s said in his Letter. Therefore, it must be dismantled for future diplomatic relations between China and the Holy See.
Many Chinese bishops also want the Church to be free from CCPA control and that the latter be stripped of its Catholic label or placedunder episcopal control rather than the other way around.
One may wonder then why the Global Times article steadfastly and repeatedly defended the CPCA; however, that should not be at all surprising.