The disappointment and resentment caused by the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement will lead to the gradual disappearance of the underground Church in China, according to a Protestant scholar from Hong Kong.
Chan Shun-hing, a professor at the Department of Religion and Philosophy at Hong Kong Baptist University, told a recent seminar that members of the underground Church felt disappointed and betrayed by the Vatican.
He recounted how many priests, who had spent much of their lives in prison, had later insisted on returning to their ministry despite their old age, “because of the perseverance of their conscience.”
However, such acts of conscience are not so respected nowadays, he added.
And without such recognition of their devotion and valour, what else would encourage them to endure such persecution, he asked.
Such religious recognition has sustained the underground community in China for 40 years and helped it resist government control, Chan explained.
But this sudden request that they agree to compromise with the communist government after struggling for so long has “caused them pain”, he told the seminar jointly organised by the Department and Centre for Sino-Christian Studies.
Titled ‘The Catholic Church in China under the Sino-Vatican Agreement’, the seminar also welcomed Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun and Candy Chan, the director of a two-part TV show that aired in January about the agreement. It was produced by Radio and Television Hong Kong (RTHK), the local government’s public broadcasting service.
RTHK interviewed priests and parishioners on the mainland and asked them for their thoughts about the deal signed last September, especially on how it had impacted the state-sanctioned and underground churches.
Chan said after listening to the comments shared by the priests interviewed by RTHK, he felt “the authority of the Holy See has been weakened” in the wake of the agreement.
In one episode, a priest from the open community wondered why the content of the agreement was not disclosed, which he considered disrespectful.
The episode also showed a priest from the underground community challenging the concept of papal infallibility. Chan said he had heard similar sentiments from many priests in China.
He pointed to a further split in the underground community between those who support the agreement, and those who reject it. The latter also reject the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) and the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), he said.
The professor said he had seen priests from the underground Church leave their service and refuse to join the open community, which he argued would lead to the gradual disappearance of the underground movement altogether.
“I have been able to trace this trend and it is really possible,” he said.