A+ A A-

Catholics in chains


China now thinks it normal that the Bishop of Shanghai should be under house arrest.

Dear visitor:

Please put a little something in the CERC stocking this Advent.

Bishop Joseph Fan Zhong-Liang

This week the legitimate Catholic bishop died at the age of 97, having spent more than 50 years in the laogai — Chinese gulag — and under house arrest.  Bishop Joseph Fan Zhong-Liang, a Jesuit priest, was denied even in death the proper rituals due to a Catholic bishop.  He died as he lived, in quiet, resolute refusal to swear allegiance to the politburo of Beijing rather than the pope of Rome.

In 1955 the Maoist regime, fearful of freely-practiced religion as all totalitarian tyrants are, rounded up the bishop of Shanghai, Ignatius Kung Pin-Mei, and some 200 other priests and Catholic leaders.  Some months after, Bishop Kung was taken to a local stadium for his communist show trial.  Hands tied behind his back, he was pushed forward to a microphone to confess his crimes to the people.

"Long live Christ the King!  Long live the Pope," he cried out.  He was immediately dragged away and imprisoned for another five years before the Chinese regime attempted another show trial.  By 1960, China had set up the "Catholic Patriotic Association" in which Catholics would be given some liberties to worship as long as they rejected the authority of the pope, and recognized the Chinese government as head of the Catholic Church in China.

"I am a Roman Catholic Bishop," responded Bishop Kung to the offer of a position in the Patriotic Association.  "If I denounce the Holy Father, not only would I not be a bishop, I would not even be a Catholic.  You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties."

Bishop Kung disappeared for another 25 years.  Sentenced to life imprisonment, he was denied even family visits and letters.  In 1979, Pope John Paul named him a cardinal in pectore — meaning "in his heart," keeping his name secret.  John Paul expected that if he publicly named Kung a cardinal, the communists would kill him, making him the St. John Fisher of China.

In 1535, Pope Paul III named Bishop John Fisher a cardinal during his imprisonment in the Tower of London for refusing to recognize Henry VIII as head of the Catholic Church in England.  In May, the pope thought that the cardinalatial honour might persuade Henry to be lenient with Fisher.  Instead, Henry cut off his head in June.

In 1988, Kung was released and exiled to Connecticut for health reasons, where he lived until his death in 2000 at the age of 98.  Meanwhile, the Patriotic Association named one of Kung's former priests, Aloysius Jin Luxian, the regime's bishop in Shanghai.  The Holy See did not recognize that as legitimate, and instead named Bishop Fan as Kung's successor in Shanghai.  Fan was ordained clandestinely in 1985, himself having spent 30 years in the laogai.  As bishop of Shanghai he lived his entire ministry under house arrest, even after Kung's exile and death.

In 2013 the regime's Bishop Jin died.  Now the legitimate Bishop Fan has died.  Who will shepherd Shanghai's Catholics?

"Long live Christ the King!  Long live the Pope," he cried out.

On July 7, 2012, a successor bishop for Shanghai was ordained, Thomas Ma Daqin.  With "both bishops" of Shanghai very elderly, a compromise was reached with both the Holy See and the Patriotic Association agreeing that Bishop Ma would be the new bishop of Shanghai after their deaths.

At the ordination ceremony itself, perhaps moved by the witness of Kung and Fan who lost their liberty for life for their refusal to bow to the Patriotic Association, Bishop Ma announced that he would no longer be part of the government's charade church.  The next day he was arrested and remains under house arrest to this day.

The regime's Bishop Jin died last year.  The legitimate Bishop Fan died this week.  Both elderly men were taken in the raid of 1955, with the former eventually breaking and the latter holding fast.  Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the decapitation of Catholic life in Shanghai.  When will the long-suffering Catholics there simply have what other Catholics take for granted — a legitimate bishop free to care for his flock?  Or will that anniversary come with Bishop Ma, the legitimate shepherd, under the same confinement that Kung and Fan lived every previous anniversary since 1955?

Over 60 years it is possible to become accustomed to almost anything.  China now thinks it normal that the Bishop of Shanghai should be under house arrest.  Catholics the world over owe it to their fellow believers in Shanghai to insist that it is not.



Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Catholics in chains." National Post, (Canada) March 20, 2014.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

The Author

desouza Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Convivium and a Cardus senior fellow, in addition to writing for the National Post and The Catholic Register. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2014 National Post
back to top