An expert on Chinese Christianity says the country's religious authorities are threatening the Catholic Church's basic identity by defying a series of excommunications and planning more illicit ordinations.
"All this is the independent, prideful nationalism of China, which many Chinese people can easily fall into - even Catholic bishops, I suppose," said Dr. Nathan Faries, author of "The 'Inscrutably Chinese' Church" and a professor of English at the University of Dubuque.
China's State Administration for Religious Affairs rebuked the Vatican on July 25, calling the "so-called excommunication" of two unapproved bishops "unreasonable and rude." A bureau spokesperson told the Vatican to withdraw the penalties, saying Chinese Catholics would travel "the path of 'independent, autonomous and self-governing' Church principle and 'self-election and self-ordination' of bishops."
"I hear a lot of the Communist Party, a lot of the State Administration for Religious Affairs in those words, and not a lot of faithful Catholicism," Faries told CNA recently. "When you take this to the logical conclusion, it ceases to be Catholicism."
The state agency issued its comments three days after China's state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association announced plans to ordain seven more bishops without papal approval - adding to the three ordinations that have taken place without the papal mandate since November 2010.
Faries, a convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, is deeply concerned about the breakdown in relations between Beijing and the Holy See after a period of improvement. His book on Chinese Christianity came about through his experience traveling, teaching, and living in the country, where he found many "very faithful clergy" in both underground and state-approved settings.