Letter from Rome
THE Vatican's director of pastoral care for Chinese Catholics outside China fears the currect crackdown in the people's republic will set back China-Vatican dialogue. "It can safely be said that the Tiananmen tragedy will adversely affect the progress of dialogue", Chinaborn Fr Paul Pang siad in a recent interview.
In early June, Chinese authorities brutally supressed a massive student-led prodemocracy demonstration in Beijing's giant Tiananmen Square. Hundreds were estimated to have been killed by the army. The suppression of the pro-democracy movement is "going to be very adversely affecting the Catholic Church" in China, Fr Pang said.
The Franciscan heads the Office for the Promotion of Overseas Chinese Apostolate of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples. He spends much of the year travelling to Chinese Catholic communities around the world.
Fr Pang believes that a government attack on a mostly Catholic village on April 18 was a warning to Chinese Catholics who remain loyal to the Vatican that the government intends to tighten control over their activities. That attack on the village of Youtong by an estimated 5,000 police officers reportedly left two young people dead and 350 people injured, including a nun who lost an eye. Of Youtong's 1,700 Catholics, 1,500 are said to be loyal to the Vatican.
In addition, a Chinese Communist Party document has recently come to light which sets out a programme targetting activist clergy of the pro-Vatican underground church, Fr Pang noted. A summary of the document which he provided says those clergy who • fail to cooperate with government religious policy "will be severely punished".
The Chinese government recognises a Catholic hierarchy which elects and consecrates its members without Vatican authorisation. Sources say some of those bishops, who hold office illicitly under canon law, are in the process of being regularised by the Vatican.
Fr Pang said that most Catholics in China do not recognise the elected bishops and remain loyal to the Vatican. China's government since the mid-1950s has backed the independent hierarchy and an organisation called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which promotes the government's policy on regligion.
Fr Pang acknowledged that there is debate within the Catholic Church outside China on what constitutes the Catholic Church in China. Some differentiate between the government-sanctioned hierarchy and its allied patriotic association, and the pro-Vatican underground church.
Among overseas Chinese Catholics, for whom he is responsible, there is a "minority who would think that the Holy See is too lenient" for not "condemning outright" the patriotic association. Others feel the Church should be more open to the government-sanctioned church in China, while protecting "the integrity" of Catholic doctrine, he said.
Fr Pang revealed that most China-watchers at the Vatican hold the view that there is only one Catholic Church in China, composed of loyal Catholics and a pro-government minority who support the elected bishops and China's religious policy calling for an independent church.
The Franciscan said one of the most disruptive incidents in Vaticar-China relations, the Vatican's naming in 1981 of Bishop Dominic Tang Yee-Ming of Canton as archbishop, was not the slight that Chinese officials said so vociferously it was. Immediately after the announcement, China accused the Vatican of interfering with the independence of the Catholic Church in China and denounced the naming of Archbishop Tang, who had been imprisoned without trial for 22 years before his release in 1980.
Fr Pang said the bishop had gone to the Chinese Embassy in Rome prior to the Vatican proclamation to get reaction from officials to his being named archbishop. The ambassador and his deputy were not in, but Bishop Tang said he was able to speak with the next highest official, who told hits that since it was only a religious matter, there should be no problem.
When the Chinese government began denouncing the appointment, he said, the Vatican remained quiet about the bishop's embassy visit. It chose not to blame the official or make it appear the church sought Chinese approval of the bishop's elevation, he said.