The so-called “sinicization” of the Catholic Church in China, that is, the adaptation of the forms of ecclesial life to the Chinese cultural and social context, in itself “is not a problem”.VATICAN – Bishop Arrieta: the Agreement on the appointment of Chinese Catholic Bishops is not new in the history of the Church – Agenzia Fides
Rome (Agenzia Fides) – The so-called “sinicization” of the Catholic Church in China, that is, the adaptation of the forms of ecclesial life to the Chinese cultural and social context, in itself “is not a problem”. The important thing is that in this adaptation the “essential things” that characterize the very nature of the Church are preserved, and that in reality “are few”. The Spanish Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, Secretary of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts, affirms this with determination in the video interview conducted for Agenzia Fides by Teresa Tseng Kuang yi (see attached video).
The Catholic Church, in carrying out its mission – adds Bishop Arrieta – has always recognized the legitimacy and also the need to incorporate elements taken from the context of each country, and traditional expressions of each culture. The only condition is that such adaptations do not compromise and do not obscure the “essential things”, the constitutive genetic factors that shape the identity of the Catholic Church, and the performance that is proper to it.
In this regard, the Secretary of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts also also commented on the Provisional Agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See on the appointment of Chinese bishops, signed in September 2018 and renewed for the second time last October.
The Agreement on the processes for episcopal appointments in China – Bishop Arrieta points out – aims to guarantee that the appointments of bishops at the head of Catholic communities are made “by mutual agreement between the Chinese government and the Pope”, who, according to what is also defined by the Code of Canon Law, has the prerogative of freely appointing bishops or confirming “those who have been legitimately elected” (Can. 377, §1).
Bishop Arrieta also points out that in the relations established to sign the Agreement and verify its concrete application, the Holy See and “the legitimate authorities of the Chinese people” mutually recognize each other as interlocutors.
In the video interview, the Secretary of the Dicastery for Legislative Texts also points out that the direct participation of the civil authorities in the appointment procedures of Catholic bishops is certainly not a Chinese prerogative or a novelty in the history of the Church.
In this sense, Bishop Arrieta, who was born in Vitoria, in the Basque Country, recalls what happened in Spain at the time of Francisco Franco, when to elect the Spanish bishops “the Government presented three names, and the Pope chose”.
In the first few lines of the video interview, Bishop Arrieta confides that he has spent 20 years cultivating relationships and exchanges with “Chinese friends” and that he has visited China and was impressed by this people “with an ancient culture”. Arrieta adds that he is not officially and directly involved in the relations of the Holy See with representatives of the Chinese government, and at the same time reaffirms his commitment to work according to his competences to increase confidence in relations between the Holy See and Beijing, cultivating cultural relations and friendships with Chinese scholars and academics as well.
Bishop Arrieta refers to his efforts to disseminate the study of ecclesiastical law in China, in order to offer ways of reflection and deepening to those interested in civil law regulations relating to communities of believers in China.
Juan Ignacio Arrieta Ochoa de Chinchetru, born on April 10, 1951, was ordained a priest of the Prelature of the Holy Cross (Opus Dei) on August 23, 1977.
He received doctorates in canon law and jurisprudence and served as professor of canon law, first at the University of Navarra (Spain) and then in Rome and Venice. He was Dean of the Faculty of Canon Law at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross from its creation in 1984 until 1993, and again from 1995 to 1999.
In 2003 he became Dean of the Institute of Canon Law of Saint Pius X, Venice. He was appointed secretary of the Pontifical Council (today Dicastery) for Legislative Texts on 15 February 2007 and named titular bishop of Civitate on 12 April 2008. He received his episcopal consecration on 1 May 2008.
In his essay dedicated to the organizational aspects of Church-State relations in China, contained in the volume entitled “The Agreement between the Holy See and China” (published in 2019 by Urbaniana University Press and edited by professors Agostino Giovagnoli and Elisa Giunipero), Bishop Arrieta, referring to the events of Chinese Catholicism, bears witness to how “canon law, due to its flexibility, continues to be capable of resolving now, as it has done over the centuries in different cultures and historical situations, the problems that may arise, respecting only the essential elements of the theology of the Church”. (GV) Agenzia Fides, 23/11/2022)