Bishop Joseph Han Zhi-hai of Lanzhou, a province in north-central China, has called for unity among Catholic clergy in China. In his letter to the Vatican Fides agency on the 20th anniversary of his ordination as Bishop, Han suggested that all Catholic churches in China should register with the government.
Han believes this will end their division as state-sanctioned and underground churches. He emphasized that the disunity and heartbreak between brothers were hurting and tormenting them the most. Han is a bishop recognized by both the state and the Vatican. The Vatican has long disputed the appointment of bishops and other religious matters with China.
Bishop Urges Chinese Catholics Not to Be Afraid and Leave Underground Catholic Church
According to UCA News, Han writes that when he became Bishop 20 years ago, he expressed his desire to join the state-sanctioned church and called on other bishops to do the same. He believes that in the intervening years, the church in China has made progress in living openly in full communion with the Universal Church within the framework of Chinese law.
Han cites the growth of his diocese, including the construction or renovation of 20 churches, the training of more than 20 priests, and the growth of three congregations with 136 religious sisters. He acknowledges that there are still difficulties but believes that they can be faced with the help and closeness of the whole church.
Before 2018, the Catholic Church in China was divided into two groups: the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Underground Catholic Church loyal to the Vatican. In the article Bitter Winter, members of the latter group, including bishops, priests, and laypersons, were persecuted for their beliefs, and their existence was uncertain.
In 2018, a deal was reached between the Vatican and China to gradually merge the Underground Church into the Catholic Patriotic Association, creating one unified Chinese church. Bishops would be jointly selected by the Chinese Communist Party and the Vatican and appointed by the Pope. While the Vatican claimed that the Underground Church no longer existed after the deal, guidelines were issued in 2019 allowing Catholic conscientious objectors to remain outside the Patriotic Association if their conscience required it.
Proposing Improvements to the Agreement
Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican secretary for Relations with States, was interviewed by Colm Flynn for EWTN News. According to CCS, Gallagher stated that Vatican diplomats are currently working to negotiate improvements to the provisional agreement signed with Beijing in 2018 regarding the appointment of bishops.
He acknowledged that the current agreement could have been a better deal, as the other party was only willing to agree to certain things. Gallagher also noted that the timing of the agreement was not ideal and that the Chinese government had used it to pressure the Catholic community, particularly the Underground Church. Despite these challenges, he emphasized that the Vatican is committed to moving forward and seeking the best possible outcome for the Church in China.