In part, Fr. Cervellera believes, the government's provocative actions were motivated by the Chinese Patriotic Association, which feels threatened by any moves to strengthen ties with Rome. He said association members are keenly concerned to preserve power and thus their jobs and control of Church finances.
"The more the Vatican tries to have a dialogue with the government, the more the Patriotic Association thinks that it's coming to its end," he said.
He also believes the government sees control of the Church as a way to maintain power over a population dissatisfied with rising inflation and a growing disparity between rich and poor.
Then, there is the issue of communist ideology. "I think they really cannot understand what freedom of religion means, that there is something in the conscience, in the awareness of the person which doesn't belong to the party or the state, but belongs only to God," Fr. Cevellera said.
Catholics in China, he explained, have “freedom of worship, but not freedom of religion.” True freedom of religion would mean that the Church would have the power to govern itself without interference from government officials.
The situation now, he said, is “terrible.” Chinese officials have created "a problem with our communion from the sacramental point of view."
Chinese Catholics loyal to Rome have been put in a difficult position. They fear that the bishops not approved by Rome will from now on preside over or be present at all ordinations of new bishops. That would render these ordinations illegitimate from the Catholic point of view. The result would be a Church led by bishops who are fact bishops in name only.
In the meantime, both the official state-sanctioned Church and that which remains "underground," unwilling to subject itself to communist authority, continue to be united and, paradoxically "strengthened" by their persecution. There is no freedom for either, Fr. Cervellera said.
As for the future, he hopes that recent Popes’ initiatives to open the Church for China's nearly six million Catholic has not been in vain.
"My hope is that all the work done for the unity of the Church by John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the Church in China can continue,” he said.