China seems to be facing one of the most serious issues it has ever faced in a long time. The matter pertains to Shanghai’s Catholic Church which happens to be largest Catholic diocese in the country. And the diocese stands the threat of being overrun by the government due to the death of the long standing bishop and the house arrest of his successor, leaving the church leaderless and vulnerable.
Things have never been smooth with Beijing and the Vatican, with the former severing diplomatic ties with the Vatican City and Rome as early as 1951. Being an atheist country, China decided to run its own Catholic program, and Chinese Catholics have repeatedly come under the fire for supporting Beijing rather than showing their allegiance to the Vatican.
Things for the Catholic diocese in China were running smooth, however, until a year ago. On the 7th of July last year, Shanghai ordained its new auxiliary bishop, Thaddeus Ma Daqin who was considered as the successor to the standing bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian.
But Thaddeus kicked up a storm when he chose to use his new ordination to renounce the church’s support to the Patriotic Associated which happens to be an organization that sees over the matters of the Chinese church, and is in turn controlled by the Beijing government.
Thaddeus’s speech was enough to stun his fellow congregants, and infuriate the Party officials to the extent that he was immediately placed under house arrest in a seminary in the city.
Matter became worse in April this year with the death of Aloysius Jin Luxian. With Thaddeus still under house arrest and no other immediate bishop ready to take over the diocese, Shanghai’s Catholic Church stands chances of being taken over the Beijing government, or facing interference from the Vatican in Rome. The future of the church itself has become uncertain, with worshippers shocked and increasingly becoming anxious about not getting a proper leader to lead them.
Sources from inside the church on the condition of anonymity revealed that they were waiting for the next step to be made by both the diocese and the government. They also claimed that in a country like China, individuals can love the church and the country only if they love the Party as well. Many Catholic Chinese don’t like the Party though, and this has brought back haunting memories of the Beijing government rounding up and jailing the country’s catholic leaders in 1955. The late Bishop Jin was a part of the group, and had to remain behind bars and toil away at reform camps for a good 18 years before being released in 1980.
With Bishop Jin taking over as the incumbent bishop in 1989, Shanghai’s Catholic Church had found a way to advance its interests across the country while managing to maintain a cordial relationship with the Communist party. Under Bishop Jin’s guided leadership, the number of churches in the country increased to at least 140. A shelter for poor people and a research center were also inaugurated by Bishop Jin to help the country’s catholic community which could easily cross 150000 people.
Sadly, Bishop Thaddeus’s remarks have caused years of trust and advances to crash down. While some consider his actions as noble, others believe that his words had permanently severed the ties the Catholic Church had with the Patriotic Association, and that it would take years to rebuild that trust in order for the church to function normally.
As of now, nothing can be said about the uncertainty that looms over Shanghai’s Catholic Church. Each side is waiting for the other to make the first move. And when that move is made, all one can hope for is a renewal of sorts that could help the country’s catholic beliefs remain strong and unabated.