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AsiaNews – The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) has launched a nation-wide campaign to reassert control over the official Catholic Church, now considered too close to Rome .

Sources in China have confirmed to AsiaNews that the CCPA’s general secretary Liu Bainian has organised meetings with priests in diocese in Sichuan and Guangdong provinces in order to remind them that they owe allegiance to China and not the Vatican , in particular when it comes to picking candidates for bishop. The decision to bar four bishops invited by Benedict XVI to attend the current Synod on the Eucharist is said to be part of this campaign.

The candidates to the posts of Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai and Coadjutor Bishop of Xian who were picked in recent months were designated and selected by the Holy See with the tacit consent of the Chinese government.

Soon after the consecration of Mgr Joseph Xing Wenzhi as Bishop of Shanghai, the CCPA tried to deny that any de facto agreement between the Holy See and the government existed; instead, it claimed that it had made the decision in full autonomy.

According to the CCPA’s own rules, Bishops must be elected by priests and representatives of the diocesan community. Once appointed they must uphold the “three autonomies”, namely autonomy in management, financing and organisation as well as remain independent of the Holy See.

The CCPA was set up by express order of Mao Zedong to control the Church (and its internal activities such as education, publishing, staffing, financing and episcopal appointments).

Although it is not a religious organisation, it acts as a watchdog over the Church on behalf of the Communist Party.

In the last ten years, a rapprochement between the bishops of the official Church and the Holy See has been underway—now more than 85 per cent of all prelates are reconciled with the Pope. This signals the failure of the autonomy policy the CCPA has backed since 1957.

Even a rapprochement between the People’s Republic and the Vatican is seen as a danger to the organisation which remains staffed by atheists with a foot in the country’s Stalinist and radical past.

After the Vatican made public the list of participants to the Synod on the Eucharist, Liu Bainian complained about the Vatican ’s lack of courtesy, claiming that the invitation should have first gone to the CCPA and the CCPA-controlled Council of Chinese Bishops.

However, many bishops have asked the government to free them from CCPA oversight and allow them to take responsibility for their own communities in their relations with the government.