The China Syndrome
In several decades of living in Washington DC, I’ve met my share of scamps and scalawags, fabulists and outright liars. It would take a modern Dante to determine which circle of Inferno each type of misbehavior merited. But of one thing, I am certain: at least in my own my own experience, I’ve never encountered more brazen and manipulative liars than Communist Chinese officials responsible for relations with religious believers.
Which is what makes it so disturbing that last week reports surfaced that the Vatican asked two underground Chinese bishops, loyal to Rome, to step aside in order to allow two bishops of the Patriotic Church, submissive to the Communist regime, to take their places. That news drove the heroic 86-year-old former Cardinal of Hong Kong Joseph Zen to go to Rome without an appointment, stand outside the Casa Santa Marta, and ask to be allowed to present a letter from the underground believers – who are willing to resist despite personal costs – to Pope Francis. Reliable sources say the pope received the letter and promised to read it.
Cardinal Zen has been energetic in warning about the unreliability of agreements with the Communists. Asia News, a publication of the Vatican, itself reacted to last week’s news with a warning about substituting “illegitimate” bishops for “legitimate” ones. The ChiComs (as we used to call them during the Cold War) are smart and shrewd. They know how to manipulate Western values, in this case, “unifying” the churches, i.e., the religious inclination to think we can fix all problems with dialogue, building bridges, diplomatic arrangements.
Meanwhile, China continues to cut crosses off church buildings, close some, dynamite still others. The New York Times reported just two weeks ago that China had destroyed the Golden Lampstand church – with 60,000 worshippers the largest evangelical community in the country. The reason: the large, conspicuous edifice had been “secretly” constructed, had failed to get official building permits, etc. These are the usual fig leaves of tyrannical regimes all over the world when they attack religion. I’ve heard top Chinese leaders blame local authorities for “excesses and errors,” but these seem to recur with a suspect regularity that no one seems to take steps to stop.