Last week, Pope Benedict took the unprecedented step of inviting four mainland Chinese bishops to the Eucharist Synod next month, including one bishop of the underground Church.
Predictably, Beijing says, “No they can’t go.”
The Communist government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which eschews any connections to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in illegal, underground churches, following only bishops appointed by the Pope, although the divisions are not hard and fast. Many priests and laypeople, and even bishops, are members of the patriotic association in public, and of the underground Church, in secret.
The Communist toadies of the patriotic association claimed that the invitation “show no respect” to them. Actually, the Chinese bishops initially welcomed the invitations, but after getting a phone call from their overlords in Beijing, they quickly changed their tune, saying that because the Vatican still has official ties to Taiwan… The usual stuff.
The Pope probably knew what would happen to his invitation even as he made it, although I’m sure he hoped for a different outcome. Nevertheless, it showed that the Church in China is one of this Pontiff’s top priorities, most especially securing their freedom to worship without fear or oppression.