Pope Benedict XVI on June 30, 2007 invited all Roman Catholics in China to unite under his jurisdiction and urged Beijing to restore diplomatic ties and permit religious freedom.
He called China’s state-run Catholic Church “incompatible” with Catholic doctrine but nevertheless made unprecedented overtures toward it. Although the Vatican seems to be seeking a positive resolution in its differences with China, history would suggest this to be impossible.
The official Chinese response to the letter, which was published at the weekend, has not been so positive. Beijing said it is willing to continue a dialogue with the Vatican, but a government spokesman said the Pope must not interfere in China’s affairs in the name of religion.
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in the government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.
Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations that remain loyal to Rome.
An example of how the PRC treats religious dissent:
In 1992 a new religion formed in China and called themselves the Falun Gong. It was mostly a meditation self-improvement thing but became wildly popular in the religion-starved society of China. It all changed in April 1999 when a Tianjin professor, He Zuoxiu, wrote an article in the Tianjin College of Education’s Youth Reader magazine entitled “I Do Not Agree with Youth Practicing Qigong,” and made special mention of Falun Gong.
On April 25, an estimated 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners lined the streets near Zhongnanhai in a silent protest against the government, alleging unfair treatment of its practitioners in Tianjin. In July 1999, the government banned Falun Gong in mainland China, fearing “a serious ideological and political struggle that would have a bearing on the future of the Communist Party and the State”.
Now Falun Gong members are persecuted viciously by the Chinese government. Human rights organization, Amnesty International claims over 2000 members have been executed for the being a member of the Falun Gong and 100,000 are in prison/work camps. Recently there have even been allegations of organ harvesting of live Falun Gong prisoners (and other political prisoners) for profit.
What does Pope Benedict XVI really hope to accomplish with his letter? If the Chinese ignore it, he appears weak and ineffectual. If the Chinese Catholics actually demand The Pope be given power over the official churches (in place of the CCP) then it could get ugly. Perhaps with the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, the Party will proceed with caution in handling their Catholics. But if history is any lesson, those guys are screwed if they upset the political balance or present a united front against the government’s authority.