Vatilkeaks at the Consistory. The Chinese path
James and John pursue dreams of glory beside Jesus. Jesus says: «Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?» And disciples demonstrate that they do not understand the logic of the life to which Jesus witnesses. It is not easy to understand the logic of Gospel. It is not easy for priests, either. And it is not easy for the 22 new cardinals, created by Benedict XVI on February, 18 2012. The ordinary public consistory in the Vatican Basilica was the occasion to fairly reaffirm what serving church does mean.
Usque ad sanguinis effusionem, unto the shedding of our blood, is the motto of the “princes” of the Church, ready to defend the Church and the Pope unto the martyrdom.
What does being martyrs mean today? The Pope explains that it does not only means to offer the «physical» life, it also means to renounce to the logics of the world. «Dominion and service, egoism and altruism, possession and gift, self-interest and gratuitousness: these profoundly contrasting approaches confront each other in every age and place. There is no doubt about the path chosen by Jesus: he does not merely indicate it with words to the disciples of then and of today, but he lives it in his own flesh».
Benedict XVI imposed the red hat on 22 new cardinals. Eighteen of the newly «created» (the appointment of cardinal is referred to in this manner because it depends on the free will of the Pope) will join the world’s most exclusive “club”, the group that will be responsible for voting for the Pope, while the remaining four, who are over 80, will receive the red berretta for merits acquired during their long service, but they cannot participate in a Conclave because they are beyond the age limit for cardinal electors.
The list of the new cardinals increases the impact of Italian cardinals, and of Western Church in General, in the College of Cardinals. But, at the same time, the choices of Benedict XVI let understand what is his position: the Church needs to find its identity again, and its identity is also made of the ius ecclesiae. Turning back to law, to turn back to God: this is Benedict XVI project.
Vatileaks at the Consistory
Yet, the Pope got to the Consistory in the spite of controversies. Papers of different kind had been leaked to the press in the past days, and a huge discussion on the possible succession to Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of State, had been highlighted in the medias. From the Vigano’s scandal (the former n.2 administrator of Vatican City State that in a series of letter denounced the “corruption” within the Sacred Walls) to the memos come out from Vatican Authority for Financial Information (the last one is a forwarded e-mail that contained the full e-mail address of the sender, Franesco De Pasquale, director of the Authority of Financial Information. The e-mail was addressed to Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, president of the Ior, to criticize the reform of the Vatican law n. 127 against the money laundering, even if this reform went through the European indications), the papers delivered show that the Holy See – and the Pope himself – seem to be under attack.
The last «scoop» was about a plot to kill the Pope. It is a note written in rough German – probably by a non German speaking person – , that Cardinal Darìo Castrillòn Hoyos brought to Vatican Secretariat of State. The note was a summary of a report of non well précised Chinese officials. These latter were reporting what they would learn by cardinal Paolo Romeo, archbishop of Palermo. Romeo would say that the Pope was not supposed to live more than 12 months. The newspapers made headlines news of the plot. «It is a nonsense», Father Federico Lombardi, s.j. director of the Holy See Press Office said.
Benedict XVI goes beyond every chat, he reaches for highness. In the front of the new cardinals, on Saturday, he remembers these phrase of Gospel: «For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45)». «These words – the Pope comments – shed light upon today’s public Consistory with a particular intensity. They resound in the depths of the soul and represent an invitation and a reminder, a commission and an encouragement especially for you, dear and venerable Brothers who are about to be enrolled in the College of Cardinals»
Consistory: two characters
Consistory is a formal meeting of the Sacred College of Cardinal. It can be ordinary or extraordinary, but only ordinary consistories can be public. Since the Pope creates new cardinals in the presence of the college, the consistory is where this takes place. The meeting was opened Friday by Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York: he underlined that «the Church is in need of deep conversion». The Pope concluded the meeting of Friday by suggesting the slogan for the Year of Faith to come: «living charity in truth». Among the new cardinals, there is John Tong, Chinese, archbishop of Hong Kong. Among the ones that are already cardinals, Paolo Romeo, archbishop of Palermo. He was who that in China talked about the possible death of Pope.
Friday evening (February, 17th), Romeo asked to meet Benedict XVI. The Pope agreed. In their face-to-face chat, Romeo explained what really happened. In fact, Romeo was a natural suspect of manoeuvering, even because of the «referendum» he promoted in 2006, when he was Papal nuncio to Italy, to replace Camillo Ruini, then president of Italian Bishops’ that was going to reach the pensionable age of 75. That move was inspired to Romeo by cardinal Angelo Sodano, then Vatican Secretary of State, and that is the reason why Romeo had been suspected to play against Bertone.
But the relationships between Bertone and Romeo seem good. On February, the 5th, Bertone went to Catania, Sicily, for the popular celebration to honor Sant’Agata, the patron saint of the town. Romeo was there, too. Bertone and Romeo got well along together.
What did it really happen? Some Sicilian prelates outline an interesting scenario. It is a long time that Beijing top officials invite Sicilian bishops and prelates to China. Chinese looks at Siciliy with both economical and cultural interests. Confucius had been translated in Latin for the first time by Prospero Intorcetta, a Sicilian Jesuit born in Piazza Armerina, in the very center of the island, and went on mission to China. There is a foundation dedicated to Intorcetta, and Chinese businessmen have good relationships with this foundation. This is the background of Romeo’s invitation to China – some other bishop refused to go to China, not to let the Chinese government manipulate the sense of their non-official presence in Chian. Romeo also informed the Vatican Secretariat of State of his trip. It is November 2011.
The 6th of January, Benedict XVI announced the consistory. John Tong Hon is one of the new berrette rosse. Tong replaced cardinal Joseph Zen as archbishop of Hong Kong. As Zen is combative, as Tong seems to be more diplomatic. The roots of this reputation are in a story that opens in 1985. Jin Luxian, archbishop of Shanghai, was under extreme pressure to accept an illicit ordination to be an auxiliary bishop of Shanghai from the Chinese religious authorities. Few inside or outside of Shanghai believed that it was possible for Jin to remain a faithful Catholic-at least, a Roman Catholic-if he accepted the ordination. Yet Jin believed that to reject the appointment would not only place the seminary at risk but also open the Shanghai hierarchy to a priest more inclined toward the Chinese Patriotic Association and the Communist Party. Reluctantly, he accepted, and he says that on the day of the ordination, he was in need of «consolation».
This consolation arrived from an unlikely source: with Pope John Paul’s knowledge and tacit approval, Laurence Murphy, a past president of Seton Hall University and an informal intermediary and adviser to the Vatican on the Chinese Church, and Father John Tong, now bishop of Hong Kong, attended the ceremony. Jin concedes that there might have been serious consequences had the CPA been aware of a Vatican-approved presence. It is to Tong’s discrete credit (and Murphy’s, too) that this delicate mission wasn’t revealed for two decades.
The Chinese path
Actually, the relationship between China and Holy See had been stressed during the last years: Chinese government made some illicit bishop ordinations, and the Holy See sent formal protest and excommunicated the bishops ordained without the Papal approval.
In fact, in China, the Catholic Church is divided into two branches. And this division originated in the policy of the communist authorities. The division sees on the one hand the communities that the Chinese Catholics themselves call «dishang», literally «above ground», or «gongkai», open, meaning the ones with official recognition and registration on the part of the communist authorities, and on the other hand the «dixia» communities, literally «underground», that is clandestine and illegal, the ones that have never accepted registering and subjecting themselves to the control of the two bodies created ad hoc by the government: the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
The bishops – about a hundred of them in all – also reflect this division. There are the «above ground» ones and the «underground» ones. The first of these are in turn divided into three categories. There are bishops recognized by the government but not by the Holy See, who therefore were consecrated and exercise their ministry in an illicit form: currently there are very few of these. There are bishops designated by the government and consecrated illicitly, who later – through private channels – were also approved by Rome: these are now in the majority. And finally there are bishops, young and recently nominated, who were designated by the government but asked for and obtained approval from Rome prior to their ordination.
As for the «underground» bishops, ordained clandestinely with the approval of Rome but never recognized by the Chinese authorities, they are the main targets of harassment. They operate illegally under constant threat, are often imprisoned, and many are under house arrest. The same is true for their clergy.
The creation of Tong as a cardinal – even more dangerous of the “troublemaker” Zen for his diplomatic attitude – would also be considered a vulnus in the spite of strain relationships. A prelate, who wants to remain anonymous, underlines on the sideline of Consistory: «There will barey be steps forward in the China-Holy See dialogue after this creation as a cardinal».
It is even possible that Chinese officials never asked Romeo about the Pope’s health, and they just delivered a false report. This report, card. Dario Castrillon Hoyos had in his hands. He has been a useful tool for the Chinese purpose. Castrillon Hoyos is still aggrieved for his removal from Ecclesia Dei – the Vatican body that leads the dialogue with the Lefebvrists – after the so-called Williamson affaire – Richard Williamson, a lefevbrist bishop, made several times anti-Semites declarations. Some people refers that Castrillon can also barely stand Benedict XVI for his commitment against pedophilia of the priests. Castrillon line – he wrote it in a letter leaked to the French weekly Golias – is only one: a priest must always be defended. So, in this view, the Chinese report was aimed to torpedo John Tong cardinalate, but several different interests converged in its deliverance: the umbrage of card. Castrillon Hoyos, the card. Sodano and his friends manoeveuring to get rid of the Vatican Secretary of State Bertone, the traditionalists that do not want to accept the doctrinal preample – a pre-condition offered by the Holy See to sign the reconciliation with Rome – and want to show that Roman Curia is Babylon and that they are right. Traditionalists “champions” to take over the role of Vatican Secretary of State is card. Mauro Piacenza, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy.
The future of Chinese Church
What will be the role of cardinal John Tong Hon? Tong has followed events in China for decades. Member of the Vatican Commission for the Church in China, he has a positive view of the Commission’s work which in a few years has succeeded in spreading the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics and increasingly reconciling official and underground communities. In an interview to AsiaNews, Tong underlined that «the Commission has produced many results. The group was formed after the pope issued his Letter to Chinese Catholics in June 2007. In the autumn of that year the Commission was launched. Our work is closely linked to that letter, which gives guidelines on how to address certain issues in the life of the Church in China».
The letter consists of two parts. The first is Catholic doctrine and structure of Church life. And in this regard, it states that the Patriotic Association is incompatible with Catholic doctrine and the Catholic structure. In addition the letter informs the Government that the Church has no political aims or interests, but encourages its members to improve their nation and make an active contribution to society. The second part deals with the formation of priests, nuns and laity. We all need an education and formation that does not stop at the seminary, but continues even after. We should continue learning throughout our lives.
In 2009, cardinal Zen, archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong, sketched an assessement ogg the letter, published in English and Chinese on the web site of the diocese. Zen – sketching out positive and negative things – identified the main negative element in the «false interpretation» made of some key passages of the pope’s 2007 letter. A false interpretation that in his judgment «has had disastrous consequences all over the Church in China».
The most serious misunderstanding of the guidelines given by Benedict XVI concerned – again, in Cardinal Zen’s view – the question of official recognition on the part of the communist authorities. Many interpreted the pope’s letter as a binding order to the The most serious misunderstanding of the guidelines given by Benedict XVI concerned – again, in Cardinal Zen’s view – the question of official recognition on the part of the communist authorities. Many interpreted the pope’s letter as a binding order to the «underground» communities and bishops to come out of hiding and ask for government recognition. Zen maintains instead that «such an interpretation not only does not represent the mind of the Holy Father, but also goes against the cruel reality of the facts».
According to card. Tong, «in all these years, the Commission has achieved several good results. First, we published a Compendium to more easily explain the contents of the Letter, highlighting its most important aspects. Secondly, we tried to help people really get that message and, thirdly, to put that message into practice. We have also received questions on how to implement the directives of the Letter. We will collect and present these to the Commission to try to find answers illuminated by the Spirit and approved of by the Pope. As for diplomatic relations between the Holy See and China, it must be said that this element is only part of the overall issue. First of all we must act on our way of life; diplomatic relations come after this and cannot absorb the whole picture. By participating in the Commission I have learned a lot and I’m grateful to the Pope for giving me this opportunity. Another result achieved is better and more fraternal relationship between the official and underground communities. There are still tensions and attacks – especially on the part of the underground community – but they are very small compared to the past. There have been improvements in diplomatic relations. Perhaps we should pray more to encourage the government to accept a dialogue».
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