Sunday, July 01, 2007

The open Church's bishop

The Atlantic Monthly has in its July/August issue an article on Jin Luxian, the longtime open bishop of Shanghai and more recently the de jure bishop of that diocese. The article online requires a subscription.

Included here are several paragraphs that aren't necessarily in order along with commends.

Under this policy, Jin was asked to take up his old responsibilities as rector of Shanghai’s seminary. Though the CPA would be looking over his shoulder, he saw the necessity: In all of China, there were at most 400 priests to serve 3 million Catholics. He believed that if the Church was to have any chance of survival, China would need young, well-educated priests, even if they were subjected to Communist propaganda during their training. Through a “foreign friend,” Jin requested permission from Rome. The response was that he should “wait for the collapse” of the Communist Party, then reopen the seminary. “They underestimated the Chinese Communist Party,” says Jin. And so, after “much prayer,” he acted in what he believed to be the best interests of China’s Catholics. “I didn’t obey the directive of Rome. I said, ‘Let the Catholic Church survive.’”

In conversation, Jin exhibits few doubts about his decisions, but occasionally his answers turn defensive. During one of our interviews, I asked about his impressions of the underground Church. He began to answer, then suddenly interrupted himself. “[The members of the underground Church] say they are loyal to the pope,” he said. “But I am as loyal as them. Why become bishop? I led the [Chinese] Catholics to pray for the pope and even printed the prayer! I reformed the liturgy. Before me, it was all in Latin. But the underground Church did nothing. If I stayed with them, I would do nothing, too.”

The last few sentences are interesting given the shifting liturgical landscape in the West. Ditching Latin and reforming the liturgy might not be the best things to take credit for when discussing one's achievements as bishop.

Then, as now, Beijing had two conditions for normalizing relations with the Vatican: the severing of the Vatican’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan (and as a consequence, the transfer of its embassy to the mainland) and an agreement not to interfere in China’s internal affairs. The Vatican has indicated that it’s prepared to meet the Taiwan condition, but the second issue, which encompasses the selection of bishops, is more difficult. Informally, the Vatican might be satisfied with a compromise similar to the process used to nominate Xing in Shanghai. However, public declarations to the contrary, it’s been suggested that both the government and the underground Church have a tacit interest in preventing a deal, since it would inevitably empower the open bishops and their conference, diminishing the government’s influence and the underground Church’s prestige.

Whether an immediate way can be found through the impasse may depend on what Benedict XVI has to say in a promised letter to Chinese Catholics. Leaked reports and the impressions of a source close to the drafting of the letter suggest that it will call, as John Paul II did, for reconciliation between the open and underground churches, and focus largely on pastoral concerns. Ultimately, it’s expected to portray China’s Catholics as largely united after a half century and to acknowledge that any diplomatic solution will need to accommodate both the vitality of the open Church and the struggles of the underground one.

Which the letter did..

The article as a whole is a biographical piece on Jin and his struggles. The main thrust seems to be Jin's efforts at creating a Chinese Church, even if it meant collaborating with Beijing. The main 'bad guys' seem to be Rome and the underground Church itself: it was described as both heroic and to blame for Catholicism's backwardness before Jin reformed everything.

It's on newsstands now, go check it out.

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