On December 29, 2016 in Beijing the National Congress of Chinese Catholic Representatives (NCCCR) affirmed its stance that the Catholic Church in China is independent from the Roman Catholic Church. This is the same principle that applies to the Protestant churches in China. They are self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating.
A communist principle
The National Congress declared, “Sticking to the principle of independence and self-governance, as well as to a system of national congresses, embodies the self-esteem and confidence of the Catholic Church in China. They are the foundation of the church’s existence.”
The NCCCR’s statement is in line with the Chinese Communist party’s demand that it controls the Catholic Church in China. This includes empowering the local Chinese Catholic community to name bishops rather than granting that power to the Vatican. It also maintains that the Pope has no standing in ecclesiastical decisions in China and that the Pope as a head of a country has no right to interfere in their local matters. Beijing insists that it must give consent to the ordination of Catholic clergy.
The Holy See and Beijing have not had diplomatic ties since 1951. Relations have improved in recent years, however. But at the December 29 NCCCR meeting Chinese Catholics were told to better integrate into the country, adapt to society, and benefit the people, according to the official news agency Xinhua.
At this meeting Yu Zhengsheng, a senior Communist Party leader, endorsed the notion of a self-governed Chinese Catholic church, according to Xinhua, the state news agency. He said spiritual leaders should work to promote the “good virtue of patriotism” and “adhere to the principles of independence and self-management.”
A positive sign
Religious leaders and scholars are divided on the significance of Mr. Yu’s remarks. Some said the willingness of Mr. Yu to meet with Catholic leaders signaled a genuine desire for reconciliation with the Vatican. Others saw his embrace of party talking points as a worrisome sign.
Francesco Sisci, a senior researcher in Beijing at Renmin University of China who has closely followed Vatican affairs, said that despite Mr. Yu’s emphasis on patriotism, the government seemed less critical of the Vatican over all at the meeting.
“You can see that the two sides are walking in lock step,” Mr. Sisci said. “There is growing agreement and growing optimism.”
A negative sign
Leaders of so-called underground churches, which operate without the state’s approval, have expressed unease about the negotiations. They are worried the Vatican might make too many concessions to China. A third or more of China’s estimated nine million to 12 million Catholics worship in underground congregations.
Dong Baolu, a bishop at an underground church in the northern province of Hebei, said the comments made by officials this week indicated that the party would not give up any real power.
“China will go about its religious affairs by its own standards, and that’s a rebuttal of the Vatican,” he said in an interview.