Thursday, 20 March 2014

China - the mangled Church

Since 1949 when the communist forces of Mao took control of the country, Chinese Catholics have been relentlessly persecuted.

It is a miracle that the Church has survived at all but survive it has albeit in two distinct forms.

After 1949 the Church went into hiding and became known as the Underground Church.
It followed, as closely as it could, the demands of the Catholic Faith, traditional in every respect.

And when Vatican II came and went and the Novus Ordo Mass in the vernacular became the norm, the Chinese bishops fell into line and the new Mass was celebrated by the priests of the Underground Church.

I cannot imagine the divisions and disarray the new Mass must have produced for Chinese Catholics, already struggling under the regime of Chairman Mao.

China has something approaching 90 distinct languages so, choosing the correct 'vernacular' must have aided the fragmentation of an already fragile Church.

But, in 1958, the Chinese Government, upset by the Vatican's authority, founded their own version of Christ's Church calling it 'The Patriotic Catholic Association'.

The regime appointed their own bishops and twisted episcopal control to suit their own agenda.

The introduction of married clergy was, arguably, the most visible change implemented by the State/Church authorities.

But, the Underground Church continued to struggle on, faithful to Rome.

Paradoxically a strange situation arose when the Underground Church switched to the vernacular liturgy and the Patriotic Church, loyal to the State, continued to use Latin.

That situation may have changed now but it was certainly the case in the mid 90s.

The Vatican (according to my religious and cultural affairs source in the British Embassy) played a rather silly game of ducks and drakes with both wings of the Church in China; one year they would court the Patriotic Church to the detriment of the Underground one and then, the following year, the roles would be reversed.

Bishop Joseph Fan Zhonglian RIP
One of the stalwarts of the Underground Church, 95 year old Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, died on March 16th this year.

He was a Jesuit priest who suffered immense hardship and imprisonments for the Faith.
Following his arrest in 1955, he was tried and sentenced to 20 years in prison where he laboured in the camp mortuary in Qinghai.

In the year 2000, Pope John Paul II appointed him Bishop of Shanghai but the Government forces placed him under house arrest.

There followed several years of harassment and double dealing by the Government who tried to place their man in Bishop Joseph's place.

Plans to hold the Bishop's funeral in the Cathedral are currently being blocked by the Government, pray that they may relent and allows this servant of God the honour he deserves.


  1. Thank you Richard for that Post.
    What a heroic man, will certainly pray for him to be honoured properly at his funeral and for it to be held in the Cathedral "Come my faithful servant....." comes to mind here.
    Will pray TO him on behalf of our ailing church, which is being so mistreated by his own Prelate brothers in the Church,what a disgrace they are too. Interesting how in the darkness we are always given a bright light, a signpost to guide us. He is one don't you think.

  2. The Church in China did not use the Novus Ordo Missae until the 1980s, be it underground or CCPA. The Chinese are highly traditional, and so throwing out the older rite was unacceptable. Moreover, it wasn't as culturally insensitive as one might think. As far as the CCPA goes, they preferred the silent Canon so the priests could pray the Canon, leaving out "una cum famulo Papa nostro..." and no one would be any the wiser in the congregation. The Mass was not available in Mandarin until the 1980s, when copies of the MR1969 were brought from Taiwan, and eventually the CCPA loosened up. On that note, Fr. Z had a report from a reader visiting China who pointed out that the TLM is packed and relatively available in the cities from priests in good standing with the Holy See. There's a Mass in Beijing (daily, even) and one in Shanghai among other major cities. Though you are right, the Holy See has the oddest policy towards the Church in China.
    In Hong Kong, where the Church enjoys relative freedom, they have had two cardinals in a row capable of celebrating Pontifical High Mass. Of course, it always gives me chills when my friend from Hong Kong prays the Rosary for the Church in China. No matter how bad it is right now, it still can (and probably will) get worse.