At long last we have confirmation that Pope Benedict will be releasing his letter addressed to the "bishops, the priests, the religious, and the lay faithful" of China this Saturday.
It will be released to journalists at 9am (under embargo until noon) and then released to the public, as the VIS states
has the best coverage from a Catholic source currently, providing a bit of the backstory
to this letter's release:
"The current situation of division began in 1951 when the officially atheist Communist Party took power and forced Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican. Presently, worship is allowed only in the government-controlled churches which are not allowed to acknowledge the leadership of the Pope. Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
Benedict has been reaching out to Beijing in an effort to restore diplomatic ties and unite China's estimated 12 million faithful. The Chinese government and the Vatican have remained divided over the government’s refusal to allow the Pope to appoint bishops and to exercise his papal authority.
Benedict's decision to address Chinese Catholics in a letter came out of high-level talks on China at the Vatican in January.
The Vatican statement on the letter, issued yesterday, provided a general indication of the letter’s contents by speaking of the interest in pursuing "respectful and constructive dialogue" with the government while paying tribute to those Catholics who have suffered for their loyalty to the pope.
Vatican watchers have said they expect the pope will stress the unity of the Catholic Church in the document, which Italian news reports said would be about 28 pages long and read like a mini-encyclical.
Benedict made clear from the outset of his papacy two years ago that improving relations with China was a key priority.
He has sent envoys to Beijing to sound out the government on the possibility of restoring ties, and he invited four Chinese bishops — from the official and underground churches — to a meeting of the world's bishops in 2005. Beijing did not let any of the four attend.
The second part to this story is how it will be received by both the underground and "official", state-approved Church. CNA
The reaction of the Beijing government and the underground faithful will be vitally important. Some underground priests have already expressed resentment about the pope's outreach to the government and the official church, according to the “official” bishop of Shanghai, Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian.
According to the International Herald Tribune’s source, Agostino Giovagnoli, a commentator on Vatican-China relations, "There will be two different reactions." The underground bishops may resent the pope's recognition of the fact that many "official" bishops who were consecrated without Rome's consent have since reconciled with the Holy See, he said.
"Maybe the reaction of the official bishops will be better," he said.
, who lives in China, is "nervous" about the letter's reception.Reuters has rather bland coverage.
The Associated Press coverage
is closer to CNA's
, and adds an interesting tidbit that "The Vatican has said it would concede to another key demand of Beijing to downgrade relations with Taiwan in exchange for restoring ties with Beijing."
That's news to me. What, exactly, could "downgrade relations" mean in this context?
The AFP coverage
likewise prompts more questions than it answers, but does at least remind us that the underground church has more members than the official one. At least, if you can trust these sorts of statistics.Update: R-C
points to this interview
with Cardinal Zen which says that the Chinese authorities received the letter a couple days ago and this would in turn explain reports that the Bishops under the Chinese government have been summoned to Beijing
, and - in all likelihood - are being coached how to officially and publicly
respond to it. Party line and all that.Update 2: CNS fills us in
on some details from the officially-sanctioned meeting of Chinese bishops:
Update 3: The BBC
Chinese government officials told about 80 Chinese Catholic bishops, priests and lay Catholics called to a late-June meeting to receive an imminent pastoral letter from Pope Benedict XVI "with calmness."
... UCA News learned that top officials from the Community Party's United Front Work Department and from the State Administration for Religious Affairs spoke for more than a half-hour June 28 regarding the papal letter. The Vatican announced June 29 that the letter would be made public June 30.
... Zhu Weiqun, United Front deputy director, and Ye Xiaowen, religious affairs administration director, did not reveal the letter's contents at the meeting. However, they did say that China's Catholics should remain calm, no matter what the content of the letter, sources said.
appears to have some minimal knowledge of the letter's contents:
In his 28-page document, the Pope pointedly refrains from referring specifically either to the underground church, which is still in communion with Rome, or to the Patriotic Catholic Church, whose bishops have always been appointed from Beijing.
Labels: catholic controversy, Catholic documents, china, vatican diplomacy