As reported by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, top Chinese officials are advocating for a self-governed Chinese Catholic church.
Senior Communist Party leader Yu Zhengsheng (pictured at left) calls for patriotism and the adherence to “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” saying that spiritual leaders should follow “the principles of independence and self-management.”
Yu is a member of the Politburo Standing Committee – a group of seven men that governs China. His suggestion comes as China works to repair relations with the Vatican following the party’s decision to expel Catholic missionaries and place Catholic churches under state supervision – rules that went into effect back in 1949.
Yu’s call for independence comes after a three-day meeting with Catholic leaders from across the country. “Some say the willingness of Mr. Yu to meet with Catholic leaders signaled a genuine desire for reconciliation with the Vatican. Others saw his embrace of party talking points as a worrisome sign,” reports the New York Times.
Following the meeting, Vatican expert Francesco Sisici of Renmin University said that the Chinese government seems less critical of the Vatican now that it has in the past. “You can see that the two sides are walking in lock step,” he said. “There is growing agreement and growing optimism.”
Pope Francis has worked hard to repair relations with the atheistic Chinese government since his election in 2013, but there have been many setbacks.
Last week, for example, a Chinese bishop who had not been appointed by the pope appeared at the ordination ceremony of two new bishops.
There’s also the issue of underground churches – congregations that operate without state approval. These churches, which represent at least three million Chinese Catholics, worry the Vatican will concede too much power to China.
“China will go about its religious affairs by its own standards, and that’s a rebuttal of the Vatican,” said underground church bishop Dong Baolu. “I don’t want to compromise my religious beliefs… I want to obey the church’s and the Vatican’s leadership.”