Vatican City, Nov 2, 2016 / 23:01 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Amid reports of a possible agreement concerning the appointment of Chinese bishops, it is useful to look at the Church’s relations with Vietnam as a possible model for the development of relations between China and the Holy See.
The agreement will likely be based on Cardinal Pietro Parolin’s model implemented in Vietnam back in 1996: the Holy See proposes a set of three bishops to the Hanoi government, and Hanoi makes its choice.
This way has some problems: the Vietnam administration often delays its approval, leaving dioceses vacant for years. Then, when they make the choice, they usually prefer a pro-government candidate.
Cardinal Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State, told nuncios gathered in Rome Sept. 16-18 that the talks with China deal with the appointment of bishops, and do not deal with any possibility of establishing diplomatic ties.
His remarks are the signal that the Holy See is putting into action a step by step approach in relations with China.
Holy See policy with China has become a major focus of discussion.
Cardinal Joseph Zen, archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong, has criticized the possible agreement about the appointment of bishops. He has remarked in an open letter in August, and in other interventions, that the agreement would change nothing in terms of religious freedom in China. For him, that is the main problem.
He also expressed concern that the agreement would harm the situation of all the Catholics in China who went underground to defend the Holy See’s independence to appoint bishops. They have always been faithful to the Church. But in his view, a possible agreement on government involvement in bishops appointments would mean their effort to preserve the Church’s autonomy has been useless.
Cardinal John Tong, who is Cardinal Zen’s successor as Archbishop of Hong Kong, insisted that the final choice on a bishop’s appointment will always be the Pope’s.
“When the Pope freely appoints bishops,” Cardinal Tong wrote Aug. 4, “he will seek the opinion of people within the Church and choose the most suitable person from a list of candidates.”
The cardinal stressed that many people are to be consulted on bishops’ appointments: bishops of neighboring dioceses, the national bishops’ conference, the current or previous bishop of the diocese, and the pontifical legate. Nuncios also seek the opinion of the local Church, including lay people with “outstanding wisdom.”