Pope Benedict may be preparing a letter to the Catholic Church in China to be released on or near the feast of Pentecost. The Pope had already mentioned his intent earlier this year and it has the potential to have a substantial effect on efforts toward, if not official approval, at least less repression of the underground Church.
The Communist Chinese 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.
So what will the letter say? According to the report:
In it the Holy Father will reportedly provide a detailed explanation of the Vatican position on Chinese government attempts to exert control over the Church, and especially the episcopal ordinations that have been staged by the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association without approval from the Holy See.
While firmly committed to the principle that the Church must be independent of government control, Pope Benedict hopes to avoid unnecessary conflict with the Beijing regime, Vatican sources indicate.
This may the most significant effort of Pope Benedict’s reign, probably even more than the motu proprio on the Tridentine Mass, because of the numbers of Catholic if affects and the fact that Communist China is one of the largest bastions of official suppression of the Church. It was a long-time goal of Pope John Paul to bring about reconciliation in China and it looks like Pope Benedict has adopted it as his own as well.