Pope calls on Chinese Catholics to offer criticism to build fairer society

Pope Francis has urged Chinese Catholics to be good citizens, but also to “offer a word of criticism” to create a more just society after a landmark deal was reached between the Vatican and China on the appointment of bishops.

In an eight-page message released on Wednesday, the pontiff said there was confusion among members of the underground Chinese church who felt abandoned by the Holy See and urged them to reconcile with the state-sponsored “patriotic association”.

He said he had written to the Chinese faithful to encourage them “to heal the wounds of the past” and he called on Catholics to “make a prophetic and constructive contribution” to their country.

“On the civil and political level, Chinese Catholics must be good citizens, loving their homeland and serving their country,” the Pope said.

“At times this may also require of them the effort to offer a word of criticism, not out of sterile opposition, but for the sake of building a society that is more just, humane and respectful of the dignity of each person.”

The landmark agreement gives the Vatican a say in the choice of bishops in China but critics have dubbed it a sellout to the Communist government which in recent years has intensified its crackdown on religion.

China’s approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between the underground church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state association.  

Under Chinese law, religious followers are only allowed to worship in congregations registered with the authorities, but millions belong to the underground churches and have been persecuted for their faith.

The agreement, which was signed Saturday, ends decades of estrangement between the Vatican and Beijing.

“As we know, the recent history of the Catholic Church in China has been marked by deep and painful tensions, hurts and divisions, centred especially on the figure of the bishop as the guardian of the authenticity of the faith,” Francis said.

“I now invite all Chinese to work towards reconciliation.”

In future, new bishops first will be proposed by members of local Catholic communities together with Chinese authorities.

The names of candidates will be sent to the Vatican and the Pope said on Tuesday he would have the final word on appointments.

After addressing the faithful, Francis turned his attention to China’s leaders and asked them to continue dialogue with the Vatican with “trust, courage and farsightedness” so the Holy See could build friendship with the Chinese people.

“In China it is essential that, also on the local level, relations between the leaders of ecclesiastical communities and the civil authorities become more productive through frank dialogue and impartial listening, so as to overcome antagonism on both sides,” the Pope said.

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