Vatican City

China's troubled Catholic legacy

Next pope to pursue balancing act after Benedict's gestures

China's troubled Catholic legacy

(By Giovanna Chirri) Vatican City, March 6 - The arrival of the Chinese cardinal, 74-year-old John Tong Hon of Hong Kong, is expected shortly at the current pre-conclave congregations in the Vatican. Meanwhile, the Church's journal-of-record L'Osservatore Romano published a headline low on its front page, ''The new Chinese directors,'' an account of the 12th National People's Congress (NPC) - the new Chinese parliament - which opened Tuesday in Beijing to instate its new leadership, chosen last November. The crusading missionary agency Asianews notes that the last NPC - in addition to nominating leadership for high profile political organs like the NPC itself, members of parliament, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference - appointed four illegitimate bishops without the consent of the pope, a couple of whom are excommunicated. However one reads it, the arrival of the Chinese cardinal is hardly a favour to the Vatican and former pope. The Chinese dossier will end up on the desk of Benedict XVI's successor who, whoever he is - perhaps even an Asian, will have an extremely prickly file to disentangle. The Holy See has had no diplomatic relations with the great Asian country since Mao Zedong forced the Beijing nuncio to flee to Taipei. Dialogue with the Chinese government is extremely difficult; and it is difficult to make space for religious freedom - not just for Catholics. In particular, the bishops selected without the pope's assent suffer hostility toward the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a failed attempt to build a national alternative Roman Church that is entwined with politics, and exploits privileges and controls religious politics. ''Underground'' Catholics - those faithful to Rome - do not have an easy life. Priests and bishops get arrested. The Church can not organize training or the ministry. Paradoxically, conversions to Catholicism are increasing along with Chinese interest in the Christian faith. On the other hand, Benedict XVI has made important gestures. In 2007, he took pen to paper and wrote a letter to the entire Chinese people, while at his bidding, Vatican diplomacy engaged China at a very high level. Still there are those, like the elderly cardinal Joseph Zen, who accused Benedict's aides of obstructing the pope's determination. ''From the beginning, he followed a wrong strategy - one of compromise with Beijing at all costs,'' said Zen. Zen added that the strategy was also contrary to majority opinion in the Vatican commission that deals with Chinese negotiations. In the meantime, Chinese diplomacy continued repeating itself like a broken record that the Holy See should abandon its diplomatic seat in Taiwan and shouldn't interfere in China's internal affairs. At Christmas, Benedict directed an unprecedented message to the new Chinese leadership, hoping they will valorize religions for the ''construction of a society of solidarity'' for the well-being of that ''noble people and the entire world''. Upon hearing of his resignation, numerous Chinese wrote to the pope thanking him for his affection and asking forgiveness for the ''disappointment that we may have caused". photo: Cardinal John Tong Hon

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