Joseph Li Shan was ordained as bishop of Beijing nearly a year and a half ago with support from the Vatican. But since taking the position, Chinese faithful have become concerned over his public rhetoric in which he expresses support for independence from the Holy See.
According to the news agency Asia News, the bishop recently gave a sermon where he called on the faithful to “love the fatherland and love the Church.” That phrase is meant to emphasize that the loyalty to the Church comes second to the Communist Party. It was coined by the government-founded Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, an organization created more than 50 years ago to ensure that Chinese Catholics remain loyal to Beijing, not to Rome.
What is unclear is whether these comments are Bishop Shan’s own words or whether he is reading them under political pressure from the government. During the past few months, the pressures have been increasing.
The allegiance of Catholics to Rome or Beijing is a sore point between the Vatican and the Chinese government.
In the Pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics published in June of 2007, he reminded that the Patriotic Association’s principles of independence and autonomy regarding the Church were “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”
A year later, Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone sent another letter to Chinese bishops. Bertone stressed the importance of the bishops being in communion with the Pope and themselves. He also urged Chinese bishops to demand the right to meet as a group and freely discuss issues amongst themselves free of any outside interference.