Letter to China


LETTER

OF THE HOLY FATHER

POPE BENEDICT XVI

TO THE BISHOPS, PRIESTS,

CONSECRATED PERSONS

AND LAY FAITHFUL

OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH

IN THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CHINA##9999

Greeting

1 Dear Brother Bishops, dear priests, consecrated persons and all the faithful of the Catholic Church in China: "We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven ... We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy" (Col 1,3-5,9).

These words of the Apostle Paul are highly appropriate for expressing the sentiments that I, as the Successor of Peter and universal Pastor of the Church, feel towards you. You know well how much you are present in my heart and in my daily prayer and how deep is the relationship of communion that unites us spiritually.

Purpose of the Letter

2 I wish, therefore, to convey to all of you the expression of my fraternal closeness. With intense joy I acknowledge your faithfulness to Christ the Lord and to the Church, a faithfulness that you have manifested "sometimes at the price of grave sufferings"[1], since "it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Ph 1,29). Nevertheless, some important aspects of the ecclesial life of your country give cause for concern.

Without claiming to deal with every detail of the complex matters well known to you, I wish through this letter to offer some guidelines concerning the life of the Church and the task of evangelization in China, in order to help you discover what the Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, "the key, the centre and the purpose of the whole of human history" [2] wants from you.

[1] Benedict XVI, Angelus of 26 December 2006: "With special spiritual closeness, I also think of those Catholics who maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without ceding to compromises, sometimes at the price of grave sufferings. The whole Church admires their example and prays that they will have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are the fount of victory, even if at that moment they can seem a failure". L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 3 January 2007, p. 12.
[2] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, GS 10.



PART ONE

THE SITUATION OF THE CHURCH

THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS


Globalization, modernity and atheism

3 As I turn my attention towards your People, which has distinguished itself among the other peoples of Asia for the splendour of its ancient civilization, with all its experience of wisdom, philosophy, art and science, I am pleased to note how, especially in recent times, it has also moved decisively towards achieving significant goals of socio-economic progress, attracting the interest of the entire world.

As my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II once said, "The Catholic Church for her part regards with respect this impressive thrust and far-sighted planning, and with discretion offers her own contribution in the promotion and defence of the human person, and of the person's values, spirituality and transcendent vocation. The Church has very much at heart the values and objectives which are of primary importance also to modern China: solidarity, peace, social justice, the wise management of the phenomenon of globalization" [3].

The pressure to attain the desired and necessary economic and social development and the search for modernity are accompanied by two different and contrasting phenomena, both of which should nonetheless be evaluated with equal prudence and a positive apostolic spirit. On the one hand, especially among the young, one can detect a growing interest in the spiritual and transcendent dimension of the human person, with a consequent interest in religion, particularly in Christianity. On the other hand, there are signs, in China too, of the tendency towards materialism and hedonism, which are spreading from the big cities to the entire country [4].

In this context, in which you are called to live and work, I want to remind you of what Pope John Paul II emphasized so strongly and vigorously: the new evangelization demands the proclamation of the Gospel [5] to modern man, with a keen awareness that, just as during the first Christian millennium the Cross was planted in Europe and during the second in the American continent and in Africa, so during the third millennium a great harvest of faith will be reaped in the vast and vibrant Asian continent [6].

"'Duc in altum' (
Lc 5,4). These words ring out for us today, and they invite us to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence: 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever' (He 13,8)" [7]. In China too the Church is called to be a witness of Christ, to look forward with hope, and in proclaiming the Gospel to measure up to the new challenges that the Chinese People must face.

The word of God helps us, once again, to discover the mysterious and profound meaning of the Church's path in the world. In fact "the subject of one of the most important visions of the Book of Revelation is [the] Lamb in the act of opening a scroll, previously closed with seven seals that no one had been able to break open. John is even shown in tears, for he finds no one worthy of opening the scroll or reading it (cf. Rev Ap 5,4). History remains indecipherable, incomprehensible. No one can read it. Perhaps John's weeping before the mystery of a history so obscure expresses the Asian Churches' dismay at God's silence in the face of the persecutions to which they were exposed at the time. It is a dismay that can clearly mirror our consternation in the face of the serious difficulties, misunderstandings and hostility that the Church also suffers today in various parts of the world. These are trials that the Church does not of course deserve, just as Jesus himself did not deserve his torture. However, they reveal both the wickedness of man, when he abandons himself to the promptings of evil, and also the superior ordering of events on God's part" [8].

Today, as in the past, to proclaim the Gospel means to preach and bear witness to Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, the new Man, conqueror of sin and death. He enables human beings to enter into a new dimension, where mercy and love shown even to enemies can bear witness to the victory of the Cross over all weakness and human wretchedness. In your country too, the proclamation of Christ crucified and risen will be possible to the extent that, with fidelity to the Gospel, in communion with the Successor of the Apostle Peter and with the universal Church, you are able to put into practice the signs of love and unity ("even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another ... even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" Jn 13,34-35 Jn 17,21).

[3] Message to the participants of the International Convention "Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China and the West" (24 October 2001), 4: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 31 October 2001, p. 3.
[4] Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Asia (6 November 1999), : AAS 92 (2000), 456.
[5] Cf. ibid., : AAS 92 (2000), 477-482.
[6] Cf. Address to members of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (Manila, 15 January 1995), 11: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 25 January 1995, p. 6.
[7] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), NM 1: AAS 93 (2001), 266.
[8] Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 23 August 2006), L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 30 August 2006, p. 3.



Willingness to engage in respectful and constructive dialogue

4 As universal Pastor of the Church, I wish to manifest sincere gratitude to the Lord for the deeply-felt witness of faithfulness offered by the Chinese Catholic community in truly difficult circumstances. At the same time, I sense the urgent need, as my deep and compelling duty and as an expression of my paternal love, to confirm the faith of Chinese Catholics and favour their unity with the means proper to the Church.

I am also following with particular interest the events of the entire Chinese People, whom I regard with sincere admiration and sentiments of friendship, to the point where I express the hope "that concrete forms of communication and cooperation between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China may soon be established. Friendship is nourished by contacts, by a sharing in the joy and sadness of different situations, by solidarity and mutual assistance" [9]. And pursuing this line of argument, my venerable predecessor added: "It is no secret that the Holy See, in the name of the whole Catholic Church and, I believe, for the benefit of the whole human family, hopes for the opening of some form of dialogue with the authorities of the People's Republic of China. Once the misunderstandings of the past have been overcome, such a dialogue would make it possible for us to work together for the good of the Chinese People and for peace in the world" [10].

I realize that the normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China requires time and presupposes the good will of both parties. For its part, the Holy See always remains open to negotiations, so necessary if the difficulties of the present time are to be overcome.

This situation of misunderstandings and incomprehension weighs heavily, serving the interests of neither the Chinese authorities nor the Catholic Church in China. As Pope John Paul II stated, recalling what Father Matteo Ricci wrote from Beijing [11], "so too today the Catholic Church seeks no privilege from China and its leaders, but solely the resumption of dialogue, in order to build a relationship based upon mutual respect and deeper understanding" [12]. Let China rest assured that the Catholic Church sincerely proposes to offer, once again, humble and disinterested service in the areas of her competence, for the good of Chinese Catholics and for the good of all the inhabitants of the country.

As far as relations between the political community and the Church in China are concerned, it is worth calling to mind the enlightening teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which states: "The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community nor is she tied to any political system. She is at once the sign and the safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person". And the Council continues: "The political community and the Church are autonomous and independent of each other in their own fields. They are both at the service of the personal and social vocation of the same individuals, though under different titles. Their service will be more efficient and beneficial to all if both institutions develop better cooperation according to the circumstances of place and time" [13].

Likewise, therefore, the Catholic Church which is in China does not have a mission to change the structure or administration of the State; rather, her mission is to proclaim Christ to men and women, as the Saviour of the world, basing herself in carrying out her proper apostolate on the power of God. As I recalled in my Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, "The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply" [14].

In the light of these unrenounceable principles, the solution to existing problems cannot be pursued via an ongoing conflict with the legitimate civil authorities; at the same time, though, compliance with those authorities is not acceptable when they interfere unduly in matters regarding the faith and discipline of the Church. The civil authorities are well aware that the Church in her teaching invites the faithful to be good citizens, respectful and active contributors to the common good in their country, but it is likewise clear that she asks the State to guarantee to those same Catholic citizens the full exercise of their faith, with respect for authentic religious freedom.

[9] John Paul II, Message to the participants of the International Convention "Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China and the West" (24 October 2001), 6: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 31 October 2001, pp. 3-4.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Cf. Fonti Ricciane, ed. Pasquale M. D'Elia, S.J., vol. 2, Rome 1949, no. 617, p. 152.
[12] Message to the participants of the International Convention "Matteo Ricci: for a dialogue between China and the West" (24 October 2001), 4: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 31 October 2001, p. 3.
[13] Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes,
GS 76.
[14] Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), : AAS 98 (2006), 240. Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern WorldGaudium et Spes, GS 76.


Communion between particular Churches in the universal Church

5 Beloved Catholic Church in China, you are a small flock present and active within the vastness of an immense People journeying through history. How stirring and encouraging these words of Jesus are for you: "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Lc 12,32)! "You are the salt of the earth ... you are the light of the world": therefore "let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Mt 5,13 Mt 5,14 Mt 5,16).

In the Catholic Church which is in China, the universal Church is present, the Church of Christ, which in the Creed we acknowledge to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, that is to say, the universal community of the Lord's disciples.

As you know, the profound unity which binds together the particular Churches found in China, and which likewise places them in intimate communion with all the other particular Churches throughout the world, has its roots not only in the same faith and in a common Baptism, but above all in the Eucharist and in the episcopate [15]. Likewise, the unity of the episcopate, of which "the Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation" [16], continues down the centuries through the apostolic succession and is the foundation of the identity of the Church in every age with the Church built by Christ on Peter and on the other Apostles [17].

Catholic doctrine teaches that the Bishop is the visible source and foundation of unity in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral ministry [18]. But in every particular Church, in order that she may be fully Church, there must be present the supreme authority of the Church, that is to say, the episcopal College together with its Head, the Roman Pontiff, and never apart from him. Therefore the ministry of the Successor of Peter belongs to the essence of every particular Church "from within" [19]. Moreover, the communion of all the particular Churches in the one Catholic Church, and hence the ordered hierarchical communion of all the Bishops, successors of the Apostles, with the Successor of Peter, are a guarantee of the unity of the faith and life of all Catholics. It is therefore indispensable, for the unity of the Church in individual nations, that every Bishop should be in communion with the other Bishops, and that all should be in visible and concrete communion with the Pope.

No one in the Church is a foreigner, but all are citizens of the same People, members of the same Mystical Body of Christ. The bond of sacramental communion is the Eucharist, guaranteed by the ministry of Bishops and priests [20].

The whole of the Church which is in China is called to live and to manifest this unity in a richer spirituality of communion, so that, taking account of the complex concrete situations in which the Catholic community finds itself, she may also grow in a harmonious hierarchical communion. Therefore, Pastors and faithful are called to defend and to safeguard what belongs to the doctrine and the tradition of the Church.

[15] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, LG 26.
[16] Ibid., LG 23.
[17] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 11-14: AAS 85 (1993), 844-847.
[18] Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, LG 23.
[19] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on some aspects of the Church understood as Communion Communionis Notio (28 May 1992), 13: AAS 85 (1993), 846.
[20] See also Benedict XVI, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007), 6 : "The Church's faith is essentially a eucharistic faith, and it is especially nourished at the table of the Eucharist. Faith and the sacraments are two complementary aspects of ecclesial life. Awakened by the preaching of God's word, faith is nourished and grows in the grace-filled encounter with the Risen Lord which takes place in the sacraments: 'faith is expressed in the rite, while the rite reinforces and strengthens faith.' For this reason, the Sacrament of the Altar is always at the heart of the Church's life: 'thanks to the Eucharist, the Church is reborn ever anew!' The more lively the eucharistic faith of the People of God, the deeper is its sharing in ecclesial life in steadfast commitment to the mission entrusted by Christ to his disciples. The Church's very history bears witness to this. Every great reform has in some way been linked to the rediscovery of belief in the Lord's eucharistic presence among his people".


Tensions and divisions within the Church: pardon and reconciliation

6 Addressing the whole Church in his Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, my venerable predecessor Pope John Paul II, stated that an "important area in which there has to be commitment and planning on the part of the universal Church and the particular Churches [is] the domain of communion (koinonia), which embodies and reveals the very essence of the mystery of the Church. Communion is the fruit and demonstration of that love which springs from the heart of the Eternal Father and is poured out upon us through the Spirit whom Jesus gives us (cf. Rm 5,5), to make us all 'one heart and one soul' (Ac 4,32). It is in building this communion of love that the Church appears as 'sacrament', as the 'sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the human race.' The Lord's words on this point are too precise for us to diminish their import. Many things are necessary for the Church's journey through history, not least in this new century; but without charity (agape) all will be in vain. It is again the Apostle Paul who in his hymn to love reminds us: even if we speak the tongues of men and of angels, and if we have faith 'to move mountains', but are without love, all will come to 'nothing' (cf. 1Co 13,2). Love is truly the 'heart' of the Church" [21].

These matters, which concern the very nature of the universal Church, have a particular significance for the Church which is in China. Indeed you are aware of the problems that she is seeking to overcome within herself and in her relations with Chinese civil society tensions, divisions and recriminations.

In this regard, last year, while speaking of the nascent Church, I had occasion to recall that "from the start the community of the disciples has known not only the joy of the Holy Spirit, the grace of truth and love, but also trials that are constituted above all by disagreements about the truths of faith, with the consequent wounds to communion. Just as the fellowship of love has existed since the outset and will continue to the end (cf. 1 Jn 1:1ff.), so also, from the start, division unfortunately arose. We should not be surprised that it still exists today ... Thus, in the events of the world but also in the weaknesses of the Church, there is always a risk of losing faith, hence, also love and brotherhood. Consequently it is a specific duty of those who believe in the Church of love and want to live in her to recognize this danger too" [22].

The history of the Church teaches us, then, that authentic communion is not expressed without arduous efforts at reconciliation [23]. Indeed, the purification of memory, the pardoning of wrong-doers, the forgetting of injustices suffered and the loving restoration to serenity of troubled hearts, all to be accomplished in the name of Jesus crucified and risen, can require moving beyond personal positions or viewpoints, born of painful or difficult experiences. These are urgent steps that must be taken if the bonds of communion between the faithful and the Pastors of the Church in China are to grow and be made visible.

For this reason, my venerable predecessor on several occasions addressed to you an urgent invitation to pardon and reconciliation. In this regard, I am pleased to recall a passage from the message that he sent you at the approach of the Holy Year 2000: "In your preparation for the Great Jubilee, remember that in the biblical tradition this moment always entailed the obligation to forgive one another's debts, to make satisfaction for injustices committed, and to be reconciled with one's neighbour. You too have heard the proclamation of the 'great joy prepared for all peoples': the love and mercy of the Father, the Redemption accomplished in Christ. To the extent that you yourselves are ready to accept this joyful proclamation, you will be able to pass it on, by your lives, to the men and women around you. My ardent desire is that you will respond to the interior promptings of the Holy Spirit by forgiving one another whatever needs to be forgiven, by drawing closer to one another, by accepting one another and by breaking down all barriers in order to overcome every possible cause of division. Do not forget the words of Jesus at the Last Supper: 'By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another' (Jn 13,35). I rejoiced when I learned that you intend your most precious gift on the occasion of the Great Jubilee to be unity among yourselves and unity with the Successor of Peter. This intention can only be a fruit of the Spirit who guides the Church along the arduous paths of reconciliation and unity" [24].

We all realize that this journey cannot be accomplished overnight, but be assured that the whole Church will raise up an insistent prayer for you to this end.

Keep in mind, moreover, that your path of reconciliation is supported by the example and the prayer of so many "witnesses of the faith" who have suffered and have forgiven, offering their lives for the future of the Catholic Church in China. Their very existence represents a permanent blessing for you in the presence of our Heavenly Father, and their memory will not fail to produce abundant fruit.

[21] Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (6 January 2001), NM 42: AAS 93 (2001), 296. See also Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), : "Divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the 'stray sheep', a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form": AAS 98 (2006), 228.
[22] Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April 2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
[23] The lived experience of the ancient Church in time of persecution should be a source of enlightenment for all, as should the teaching given on this matter by the Church of Rome herself. Rome rejected the rigorist positions of the Novatians and the Donatists, and appealed for a generous attitude of pardon and reconciliation towards those who had apostatized during the persecutions (the "lapsi"), and wished to be readmitted to the communion of the Church.
[24] John Paul II, Message to the Catholic community in China Alla Vigilia (8 December 1999), 6: L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 15 December 1999, p. 5.



Ecclesial communities and State agencies: relationships to be lived in truth and charity.

7 A careful analysis of the aforementioned painful situation of serious differences (cf. section 6 above), involving the lay faithful and their Pastors, highlights among the various causes the significant part played by entities that have been imposed as the principal determinants of the life of the Catholic community. Still today, in fact, recognition from these entities is the criterion for declaring a community, a person or a religious place legal and therefore "official". All this has caused division both among the clergy and among the lay faithful. It is a situation primarily dependent on factors external to the Church, but it has seriously conditioned her progress, giving rise also to suspicions, mutual accusations and recriminations, and it continues to be a weakness in the Church that causes concern.

Regarding the delicate issue of the relations to be maintained with the agencies of the State, particular enlightenment can be found in the invitation of the Second Vatican Council to follow the words and modus operandi of Jesus Christ. He, indeed, "did not wish to be a political Messiah who would dominate by force [25] but preferred to call himself the Son of Man who came to serve, and 'to give his life as a ransom for many' (
Mc 10,45). He showed himself as the perfect Servant of God [26] who 'will not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick' (Mt 12,20). He recognized civil authority and its rights when he ordered tribute to be paid to Caesar, but he gave clear warning that the greater rights of God must be respected: 'Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God, the things that are God's' (Mt 22,21). Finally, he brought his revelation to perfection when he accomplished on the Cross the work of redemption by which he achieved salvation and true freedom for the human race. For he bore witness to the truth [27] but refused to use force to impose it on those who spoke out against it. His Kingdom does not establish its claims by force [28], but is established by bearing witness to and listening to the truth and it grows by the love with which Christ, lifted up on the Cross, draws people to himself (cf. Jn 12,32)" [29].

Truth and charity are the two supporting pillars of the life of the Christian community. For this reason, I have observed that "the Church of love is also the Church of truth, understood primarily as fidelity to the Gospel entrusted by the Lord Jesus to his followers ... However, if the family of God's children is to live in unity and peace, it needs someone to keep it in the truth and guide it with wise and authoritative discernment: this is what the ministry of the Apostles is required to do. And here we come to an important point. The Church is wholly of the Spirit but has a structure, the apostolic succession, which is responsible for guaranteeing that the Church endures in the truth given by Christ, from whom the capacity to love also comes ... The Apostles and their successors are therefore the custodians and authoritative witnesses of the deposit of truth consigned to the Church, and are likewise the ministers of charity. These are two aspects that go together ... Truth and love are the two faces of the same gift that comes from God and, thanks to the apostolic ministry, is safeguarded in the Church and handed down to us, to our present time!" [30].

Therefore the Second Vatican Council underlines that "those also have a claim on our respect and charity who think and act differently from us in social, political, and religious matters. In fact, the more deeply, through courtesy and love, we come to understand their ways of thinking, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them". But, as the same Council admonishes us, "love and courtesy of this kind should not, of course, make us indifferent to truth and goodness" [31].

Considering "Jesus' original plan" [32], it is clear that the claim of some entities, desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church, to place themselves above the Bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to Catholic doctrine, according to which the Church is "apostolic", as the Second Vatican Council underlined. The Church is apostolic "in her origin because she has been built on 'the foundation of the Apostles' (Ep 2,20). She is apostolic in her teaching which is the same as that of the Apostles. She is apostolic by reason of her structure insofar as she is taught, sanctified, and guided until Christ returns by the Apostles through their successors who are the Bishops in communion with the Successor of Peter" [33]. Therefore, in every individual particular Church, "it is in the name of the Lord that the diocesan Bishop [and only he] leads the flock entrusted to him, and he does so as the proper, ordinary and immediate Pastor" [34]; at a national level, moreover, only a legitimate Episcopal Conference can formulate pastoral guidelines, valid for the entire Catholic community of the country concerned [35].

Likewise, the declared purpose of the afore-mentioned entities to implement "the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management and democratic administration of the Church" [36] is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes the Church to be "one, holy, catholic and apostolic".

In the light of the principles here outlined, Pastors and lay faithful will recall that the preaching of the Gospel, catechesis and charitable activity, liturgical and cultic action, as well as all pastoral choices, are uniquely the competence of the Bishops together with their priests in the unbroken continuity of the faith handed down by the Apostles in the Sacred Scriptures and in Tradition, and therefore they cannot be subject to any external interference.

Given this difficult situation, not a few members of the Catholic community are asking whether recognition from the civil authorities necessary in order to function publicly somehow compromises communion with the universal Church. I am fully aware that this problem causes painful disquiet in the hearts of Pastors and faithful. In this regard I maintain, in the first place, that the requisite and courageous safeguarding of the deposit of faith and of sacramental and hierarchical communion is not of itself opposed to dialogue with the authorities concerning those aspects of the life of the ecclesial community that fall within the civil sphere. There would not be any particular difficulties with acceptance of the recognition granted by civil authorities on condition that this does not entail the denial of unrenounceable principles of faith and of ecclesiastical communion. In not a few particular instances, however, indeed almost always, in the process of recognition the intervention of certain bodies obliges the people involved to adopt attitudes, make gestures and undertake commitments that are contrary to the dictates of their conscience as Catholics. I understand, therefore, how in such varied conditions and circumstances it is difficult to determine the correct choice to be made. For this reason the Holy See, after restating the principles, leaves the decision to the individual Bishop who, having consulted his presbyterate, is better able to know the local situation, to weigh the concrete possibilities of choice and to evaluate the possible consequences within the diocesan community. It could be that the final decision does not obtain the consensus of all the priests and faithful. I express the hope, however, that it will be accepted, albeit with suffering, and that the unity of the diocesan community with its own Pastor will be maintained.

It would be good, finally, if Bishops and priests, with truly pastoral hearts, were to take every possible step to avoid giving rise to situations of scandal, seizing opportunities to form the consciences of the faithful, with particular attention to the weakest: all this should be lived out in communion and in fraternal understanding, avoiding judgements and mutual condemnations. In this case too, it must be kept in mind, especially where there is little room for freedom, that in order to evaluate the morality of an act it is necessary to devote particular care to establishing the real intentions of the person concerned, in addition to the objective shortcoming. Every case, then, will have to be pondered individually, taking account of the circumstances.

[25] Cf. Mt 4,8-10 Jn 6,15.
[26] Cf. Is 42,1-4.
[27] Cf. Jn 18,37.
[28] Cf. Mt 26,51-53 Jn 18,36.
[29] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, DH 11.
[30] Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April 2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
[31] Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, GS 28.
[32] Benedict XVI, General Audience (Wednesday 5 April 2006): L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, 12 April 2006, p. 11.
[33] Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 174. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, CEC 857 CEC 869.
[34] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Apostolos Suos (21 May 1998), 10: AAS 90 (1998), 648.
[35] Cf. Code of Canon Law, c. CIC 447.
[36] Statutes of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), 2004, art. 3.



Letter to China