The Vatican issued a sharp rebuke to China for forcing bishops and others loyal to Rome to take part in elections for Catholic organizations controlled by the ruling communist party.
The incidents “manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Dec. 17.
“The persistent desire to control the most intimate area of citizens’ lives, namely their conscience, and to interfere in the internal life of the Catholic Church does no credit to China. On the contrary, it seems to be a sign of fear and weakness rather than of strength; of intransigent intolerance rather than of openness to freedom and to effective respect both of human dignity and of a correct distinction between the civil and religious spheres.”
The strong language reflects growing tensions in Rome’s relations with Beijing.
The statement suggested that Chinese officials have sought to knowingly provoke a confrontation — first by ordaining a bishop without Rome’s approval in November and then, earlier this month, forcing participation in elections for the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association and bishops' conference.
The Vatican again emphasized that neither state-sponsored institution is legitimate. It called the election of an unlawfully ordained bishop to head the bishops’ conference “deeply deplorable.” It also criticized as “lamentable,” the election of a bishop recognized by Rome to head the patriotic association.
The Vatican termed these moves, and the earlier ordination, “unacceptable and hostile acts” that have “unilaterally damaged the dialogue and the climate of trust.”
The statement acknowledged that these recent incidents have forced Chinese Catholics to make tough decisions of conscience.
“Each one of those who were present knows to what extent he or she is responsible before God and the Church,” the Holy See said. “The bishops in particular and the priests will also have to face the expectations of their respective communities, who look to their own pastor and have a right to receive from him sure guidance in the faith and in the moral life.”
It urged ordinary Catholics to adopt an attitude of forgiveness and understanding towards those bishops and priests who took part in the illicit ceremonies. “Continue courageously supporting them in the face of the unjust impositions that they encounter in the exercise of their ministry,” the Vatican urged.
As for those forced to participate against their will, the Holy See condemned China’s "grave violation of their human rights, particularly their freedom of religion and of conscience."
The statement praised those who refused to go along with communist authorities and all who “have borne witness to their faith with courage.”
The Vatican statement concluded by emphasizing Pope Benedict XVI's Dec. 1 call for prayers for the struggling Church in China.
“In the light of what has happened, the Holy Father’s invitation … remains pressing,” it said.