VATICAN CITY (CNS): Pope Benedict XVI knows the full structural unity of Catholic communities in China will take time, but the spiritual reconciliation of Chinese Catholics “can and must take place now”, a new Vatican document said.
Marking the second anniversary of Pope Benedict’s 2007 letter to Chinese Catholics, the Vatican published a reading guide and summary of the letter to clarify certain points and help people understand it better.
The 2007 letter established new guidelines to favour co-operation between clandestine Catholic communities and those officially registered with the Government.
The papal letter strongly criticised the limits placed by the Chinese Government on the Church’s activities. But on several key issues, including the appointment of bishops, it invited civil authorities to a new and serious dialogue.
The new compendium of the papal letter, released at the Vatican on May 24, used a question-and-answer format quoting the original letter, but it also included several new footnotes and appendixes to clarify questions raised in the past two years.
The original letter contained directives aimed at bridging the gap between Catholic communities that have registered with the Chinese authorities – and therefore operate under certain official limits – and Catholic communities that have practised the faith in a more clandestine fashion, professing full loyalty to the pope.
The compendium said Pope Benedict was urging Chinese Catholics to begin a process of spiritual reconciliation even before “a structural merger of official and unofficial Catholic communities can take place”.
At the same time the compendium, like the 2007 letter, opened the door to registration with the Government by bishops and Catholic communities, saying this was acceptable as long as it did not compromise principles of the faith and Church communion and as long as it did not force Church leaders to perform actions contrary to their consciences as Catholics.
When dealing with government agencies, “the Pope recommends bishops and priests to do all possible to avoid giving rise to situations of scandal”, it said.
The compendium emphasised again Pope Benedict’s position that determining whether or not to co-operate with the Government is a decision that must be made by the local bishop in consultation with his priests, since Government officials in different parts of China place different conditions on co-operating bishops.
“The Pope neither excludes the possibility of accepting or seeking Government recognition nor encourages doing so; the ideal would be to abandon the clandestine condition, but everything depends on the constraints imposed,” the compendium said.