China has accomplished much in recent decades with huge social, economic and political transformations. However, the challenges faced by the local Catholic Church are not vanishing. All kinds of difficulties continue to constrain the growth of the Chinese Catholic Church, forcing it to adapt its own framework and to produce new responses. In the midst of this moving and tormented context, many voices from the Church and beyond constantly arise to offer analyses, to suggest practical guidelines or even to propose solutions. The number of these commentators, experts and well-intentioned people is countless. Still, their discourses could be grouped into three main tendencies.
Three approaches to the issue of the Chinese Catholic Church
The first kind of these discourses tends to focus on the Chinese communist state. All Church problems and difficulties seem rooted in the external influence of the Chinese government. Most of these discourses focus on the division between the registered and underground Church, constantly presented as the main and most urgent problem to solve.
But this approach is based on a problematic understanding of modern nation states. Too often, it assumes that the Chinese state is entirely homogenous and anti-Christian. The supporters of these discourses usually dismiss the importance of regional variations, the internal competition among state agencies and the pragmatic nature of the communist power. Then, their approach leads to consideration of the Church and the state in a binary antagonism that condemns everyone to a narrow dead-end. And since most of the attention is given to the Chinese communist state, little is left to look at in the Church per se. To enlarge this political debate, it would be helpful to look at the Taiwanese case where the political context is completely different, yet Church growth and renewal are not more dynamic. Thus, we may conclude that the communist state is not the solution – nor the origin – to all problems.
The second approach is more optimistic and insists on the need for a modern and active education. Most of the time, this approach advocates the need to improve the situation of the Chinese Catholic Church through all kinds of training programs and study groups. Re-educating the clergy, the laity and youth to the true and contemporary Catholic faith seem to be the miraculous solution. Well-prepared catechesis, appealing youth camps, substantial intellectual formation of the clergy and proactive internet presence seem to be key factors to secure a bright future.
But objectifying rationality brings as many benefits as challenges, and does not necessarily fit in with local interests. Giving too much priority to the rational formation approach ultimately neglects a whole range of people, social groups and classes of people. Indeed, the sincere but naive belief in the power of education diffuses the idea that the Catholic Church tends toward an obvious and unique model, more fully understood by its leaders and accomplished in the West. In this approach, the clergy appear more and more as being the only ones knowing, while deep Chinese religious concerns about healing, ghosts, paradise and apocalypse are not considered seriously. Ultimately, many ignore how this belief in a program of rational education is deeply rooted in standards and guidelines defined in the West, by the West, and for the West.