Catholics may attend Mass by 'illicit' bishops
Pope Benedict's new directives in allowing Catholics to attend Mass celebrated by bishops not approved by the Vatican and his call for 'illicit' bishops to reconcile with the Holy See is likely to ease internal strife in the mainland church.
The new guidelines also answered long-term problems in dioceses where, according to the Pope, 'grave limitations' of state control had 'suffocated pastoral activity'.
In his letter, which contains a strong call for a separation of church and state, the Pope also attempted to pacify concerns and dissent from underground Catholics, praising their loyalty to Rome, which he said often brought 'suffering' from state control.
One major question that strained relations between state-recognised clerics and mainland Catholics was whether the faithful can attend Mass and other sacraments performed by 'illicit' bishops and priests ordained by them.
The Pope made it clear that although the bishops are considered 'illegitimate', the sacraments they administer are valid.
'The faithful ... must, within the limits of the possible, seek bishops and priests who are in communion with the Pope: nevertheless, where this cannot be achieved without grave inconvenience, they may, for the sake of their spiritual good, turn also to those who are not in communion with the Pope.'
The pontiff also gave specific guidelines on how 'illegitimate' bishops should give clear signs to prove their status after reconciling with the Holy See.
He called for the faithful to put 'personal viewpoints' and 'painful experiences' aside.
The directives also make it clear that priests can concelebrate Mass with Vatican-approved bishops who are recognised also by, and maintain a relationship with, the state.
It is a move set to help improve relations between many prelates of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and their clergy.
The Pope also addressed problems that have long plagued the mainland church, such as the need to step up theological and pastoral training for priests, the cultivation of the lay faithful in church teachings and evangelisation in the community, and the need to protect church property.