"The very existence of these three entities, their composition and their relationships among themselves and with the Church are presumably all part of the challenges to be met in negotiations between the Holy See and Chinese administration."
However, Bishop Yeung stressed that these are not "new challenges," as "Pope Benedict XVI has himself identified and recognized these and various other issues in his 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics which cannot be washed away if there is going to be any sustainable 'healing of relationships'."
Bishop Yeung's predecessors held strong views about the possible agreement among Chinese Church leaders: his predecessor Cardinal John Tong Hon has supported it, while the previous influential Cardinal Joseph Zen has been highly critical of the possible agreement.
Bishop Yeung recalled what the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in a July 27 interview granted to the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. Cardinal Parolin said that "dialogue in itself is already a positive fact," and that the Holy See was facing it "in a spirit of healthy realism."
"A healthy realism," Bishop Yeung commented, "is indeed required to guard against false hopes and unrealistic expectations on the one hand and premature closing of doors to further dialogue on the other."
The Level of Reality
He stressed that "things aren't always what they seem to be," and that "what is happening at the practical level of reality is often more significant than what has or has not been achieved at the formal level."
Talking about the situation of religious freedom in mainland China, he said that "signals are often mixed and the situation varies from religion to religion, from locality to locality and from time to time."
Bishop Yeung said that "the Chinese Constitution speaks of 'freedom of religious belief' and protection of 'normal religious activities,' but what truly matters is how governmental control is exercised...in practice."
He noted that control is particularly important during this "sensitive time in the run-up to the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party scheduled for November."
"I'm not too surprised that Yu Zhengsheng, one of the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee and Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), is reported to have, in July this year, stressed that Beijing intends to keep 'a tight rein' to ensure that the Chinese Catholic Church is held firmly in the hands of those who 'love the nation and the religion," namely Chinese communists.
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Bishop Yeung explained that part of the strategy of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) "was to reinforce its regulation of religious affairs and control over religions, minorities and any potential source of social disruption."
Increased regulatory restrictions require registration of all religious workers – including Catholic priests, both official and unofficial, through the CCPA – and certification of all religious sites.
Bishop Yeung recalled that "President Xi Jinping himself insisted in April last year, when addressing a National Conference on Religious Work, that religious groups must adhere to the leadership of the Party (with him as its helm), support the socialist system and socialism with Chinese characteristics, retain the principle of 'religious independence' and 'self-administration' and that there must be 'Chinazation of Religion'."
The Chinese government, Bishop Yeung said, "has since at least last year increasingly pushed for what it calls the 'five transformations,' namely localizing religion, standardizing management, indigenizing theology (by contextualizing doctrine), showing financial transparency and adapting Christian teachings so as to mold them into institutions that reflect the objectives of the Communist Party."
One of the official reasons why the Chinese government set up the CCPA was because they required all priests to be "patriotic" and to be connected to the Chinese administration.
Bishop Yeung reflected on the Chinese government's seeming reluctance to accept that Catholic bishops are not inherently unpatriotic, and that the faithful can be good Catholics as well as good citizens and patriots.