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The Church in China

“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” This message has echoed throughout the Catholic Church’s history. Its authority rests upon Jesus’ teaching “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Unfortunately, this message is not echoed in Adam Minter’s profile of Jin Luxian (“Keeping Faith,” July/August Atlantic). The message in that story is “Political expediency is the seed of the Church.”

In the course of conveying that message, Minter distorts a great number of things. For example, he depicts Ignatius Kung Pin-mei as a troublemaker, and Jin as a peacemaker. But Kung, Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding, Bishop Dominic Deng Yiming of Guangzhou, and thousands of other living and deceased clergy, religious, and laypersons continue to be the symbol of Catholicism and the source of strength for Roman Catholics in China for two reasons: first, they either laid down their lives or are still suffering for their Roman Catholic faith, and second, they spent time in prison for refusing to renounce the authority of the pope and for refusing to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Their martyrdom and suffering, together with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, are the reasons that the Roman Catholic Church in China has survived—“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”—and not because of Jin’s “get[ting] things done now,” as Minter describes it. Statistics verify this truth: The underground Church has approximately 10 million faithful, while the government-sanctioned Church has only 4 million.

Minter also fails to point out that Jin stole the authority of the bishop of Shanghai from Kung while Kung was not yet retired. Kung was Jin’s bishop, and Jin should have been obedient to Cardinal Kung. Instead, in collaboration with the Chinese Communist regime, Jin betrayed him and stole the diocese. Minter accepts Jin’s explanation that “reject[ing] the appointment would not only place the seminary at risk, but also open the Shanghai hierarchy to a priest more inclined toward the CPA and the Communist Party.” Jin made this self-serving excuse because he wanted to be perceived as the irreplaceable savior of the Catholic Church in China.

Foreseeing what would happen to the Catholic Church under Chairman Mao, Kung in 1954 led all his priests and seminarians—including Father Jin Luxian—to Sheshan Basilica, where they prayed and took an oath never to do anything to compromise their Catholic faith. The next year, Kung and Jin were among those imprisoned, and efforts were made to get each of them to join the puppet Catholic Church, now known as the Catholic Patriotic Association. Kung was unwilling to defect and was eventually given a life sentence. Jin was more pliable, however. In his book The Catholic Church in China, the late Father Ladany, a renowned China expert, made the following reference to Jin Luxian:

Several families suffered because of his confessions … The court verdict (we have the text of the verdict) stated that he was given “only” eighteen years because in jail he was willing to reveal the crimes of others.

Because of his collaboration, Jin earned the trust of the Communists and worked as a translator under the government’s Ministry of Security. One does not need too much imagination to visualize how comfortable a translator’s “jailed” life must have been.

As is well known, Bishop Kung, while still in a Communist prison, was named a cardinal in secret in 1979. He was publicly proclaimed a cardinal in the consistory of 1991. When he received the cardinal’s insignia, the ovation lasted seven minutes. Upon Kung’s death, John Paul II called him “this noble son of China and of the Church.” In him are fulfilled the words of the Gospel: “Well done, good and faithful servant; … enter into the joy of your master.”

Joseph Kung
President, Cardinal Kung Foundation
Stamford, Conn.

In his profile of Jin Luxian, Adam Minter writes:

Christianity first reached China in the 7th century, carried by Nestorians via the Silk Road, but it wasn’t until the mid-16th century, with the arrival of the Society of Jesus, that the Catholic Church established a permanent presence in the Middle Kingdom.

Actually, during the early years of the Pax Mongolica (roughly 1268 to 1368), Khubilai Khan, the son of a Nestorian mother, invited the Italian Franciscans to establish a Latin Christian presence in China that lasted well into the 15th- century Ming era. This presence produced large churches with thousands of converts, and Franciscan-introduced imagery of the Madonna of Humility made a lasting impression in the form of the Child-giving Guanyin, south China’s beloved folk goddess. This image, which seemed so “Marian” to Ricci and his followers (it was!), indicated the strength of the Franciscan-nurtured faith among the Chinese—a faith that sprang back into full blossom with the help of the Society of Jesus. The great irony is that the Jesuits were unaware that their Franciscan brothers had been in China two centuries before them.

Lauren Arnold
Mountain View, Calif.

Adam Minter replies:

On June 30, Pope Benedict XVI issued his long-awaited letter to China’s Catholics. Among other topics, the letter includes a discussion of bishops, including those—like Shanghai’s Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian—who were ordained without the pontifical mandate but later were “received into communion with the Successor of Peter.” These bishops, the pope explains, were vetted and granted “full and legitimate exercise of episcopal jurisdiction.” Significantly, the letter’s explanatory notes add that these same bishops “were especially concerned with the good of the faithful and with an eye to the future.”

The contrast between the pope’s letter and Joseph Kung’s letter is stark. Where the pope is conciliatory, Kung is bitter, going so far as to accuse Jin of stealing the Shanghai diocese and joining “the puppet Catholic Church, now known as the Catholic Patriotic Association.” The former point overlooks the fact that Jin’s 1985 ordination was attended by two foreign priests with the express knowledge and tacit approval of Pope John Paul II. The latter point is factually incorrect (the pope refers to the association as “desired by the State and extraneous to the structure of the Church”), and implies that Kung is better able to judge Jin’s character than the two popes who have recognized him as the de jure bishop of Shanghai.

Kung’s claim that the underground Church has more adherents than the open Church has no basis in fact. No reliable census of China’s Catholics has been taken since the late 1940s, and as a result, figures on China’s Catholic population are notoriously unreliable. Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre, the preeminent clearinghouse for information on China’s Catholics, claims that roughly 12 million Catholics live in China, and pointedly does not list a breakdown between the two Church factions. The simple fact is that nobody knows.

Any researcher who delves into the complicated life of Jin Luxian will confront rumors that he collaborated with the Communist regime after his arrest in 1955. I call them “rumors” because by the mid-1990s, they had been largely discredited—including those propagated by Father Laszlo Ladany in 1987—as part of the long process whereby Jin was reconciled with the Vatican and the Jesuits. Kung repeats the allegation that Jin, as a reward for his collaboration, lived as a pampered translator during his prison sentence. Jin did, in fact, work as a translator for Baoding’s Public Security Bureau, but only after spending 18 years in prisons and reeducation camps. Even during the post-sentence period, Jin remained in government custody—hardly a situation that could be characterized as a reward for collaboration.

There is little question that Cardinal Kung suffered greatly for his faith, and that faith was rightfully recognized by the pope in 1979 and 1991. But there is also little question that the foundation that bears Kung’s name has long been out of touch with the conciliatory tone that Pope John Paul II began to cultivate in the early ’80s, and which Pope Benedict XVI’s letter has codified.

Finally, Lauren Arnold is quite right that the Franciscans established a thriving mission in Mongol China. But it was not permanent (it ended in 1368), and that is why I chose not to mention it.

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