"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Chinese schism

Obviously undertaken at the behest of the Chinese government, last week's consecration of two bishops of the "Catholic Patriotic Association" signals the unwavering determination of said government to control the Church in China. The Vatican's diplomatic niceties in recent years, orchestrated by Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, have yielded little but arrests of clergy loyal to Rome and similarly contemptuous treatment for some of the faithful. What we're seeing now is the hardening of schism.

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his "profound displeasure" and threatened "severe canonical penalties" for clergy involved in this episcopal consecration. By allowing that they may have been acting "under duress," the Pope has left them a bit of wiggle room for getting off the hook. But at this point, such compassionate moves matter little. That's because the extent to which the objects of His Holiness' warning are personally culpable for this outrage is irrelevant.

We have a schism, and those whom the Holy Spirit has called to resist becoming part of it—at potentially great cost to themselves, to be sure—have ignored the call. These men are not Thomas Mores. The excommunications should proceed apace just to make clear to everybody, especially the true Catholic Church in China, that the CPA is not in communion with the Catholic Church and is in fact a government-controlled fraud. The clergy involved can always be forgiven if they repent, by Christ if not by formal papal decree.

This is just the latest chapter in a story that began back in the fourth century. Governments, even Catholic governments, have long tried to control the Church by controlling episcopal appointments. The old name for it is "caesaropapism." The main reason for resisting it hasn't changed either: it is incompatible with the divine constitution and mission of the Church. In this case, it is incompatible with the most elementary right of conscience: that of religious freedom.
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