When I was visiting family in Peking a few years ago we went to Mass at the Wangfujing Church dedicated to St Joseph. I naturally assumed that this was run by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. This was the English Mass but it was a little surprising that an American priest was saying it. I knew that members of the CPCA are in an invidious position and that the situation is not as simple as a simple split between the outlawed Catholic Church, known as the Underground Church, and the schismatic CPCA. It is more like the distinction which existed between the Church of England and the Catholic Church at the the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign (right at the beginning there were still Catholic Bishops, but she removed them pretty quickly) than that at the end. Nevertheless it is one thing for a native Chinese to schismatize in an attempt to get along under the crushing tyranny of the People's Republic of China, quite another for a foreigner to do so. After all this priest was free to leave.
I gathered afterwards from him that, in fact, recent developments had meant that the Catholic Church is allowed to operate freely in some places. This had been a Catholic Mass. It was not clear how far this went, who was the supervising ordinary, was the entire Diocese of Peking "clean"? and so on.
So naturally I was keenly interested when an article on Catholicism in China Today by Tom McGregor, in Crisis Magazine, appeared in my news feeds. It was no better than you could get from any secular source. McGregor writes:
The Catholic Church in China is divided between the Underground Roman Catholic Church that has sworn its allegiance to the Vatican, and the Patriotic Church, which supports the Pope but has not sworn an allegiance to him publicly. The Patriotic Church is registered under the Chinese government, while the Underground is not.
Ah yes. I'm a Catholic so I swear allegiance to the Vatican every morning, just as Americans swear allegiance to Foggy Bottom and the British swear allegiance to Whitehall. Maybe the Underground Catholics do swear oaths to the Pope, although the best way to affirm their catholicity is to attend the sacraments as celebrated by clergy validly ordained by Bishops ordained with the approval of the Pope. This is just the standard secular media confusion between the Vatican, the Holy See, the Church, and the Pope. But Crisis is a Catholic magazine.
The author blurb reads:
Tom McGregor is a writer based in Beijing, China. He is a former business columnist for China Radio International (CRI) and China Daily. His articles have appeared in Fox News, Washington Post, Daily Caller, Seoul Times, Korea Herald, Korea Times, JoongAng Daily, UN Post in addition to Catholic media outlets. He has also appeared as a TV guest commentator on CCTV's Dialogue show broadcast from Beijing.
CCTV is the main state broadcaster of the People's Republic of China. It is a fitting name for the propaganda wing of one of the most brutal regimes in the world. I watched that channel when I was in China. It was startling how many western journalists appeared at one time or another. If instead this was some country under the odium of the bien-pensants (Apartheid era South Africa, say), could you imagine that any of them, after appearing as a journalist on "SACTV", would ever work again? The commentators mainly concentrate on this point, to which the moderator responded.
Those who accuse the Chinese government of heavy handedness and worse should not expect journalists to enjoy the same press freedoms we are familiar with in the West. The author is no propagandist for the government but must work within official guidelines.
But that is no excuse for writing and publishing an article on the Church in China and not knowing the difference between the Vatican, the Pope and the Church.