CHINA – Two new bishops ordained with Vatican approval
After more than 60 years of estrangement, secret talks between the Vatican and Chinese authorities offer new hope. Vatican and Chinese officials met at least four times since January this year, including in Rome, to try and resolve the delicate issue of the appointment of bishops. Each side has long insisted that it should have the final say on the matter – the Vatican as God’s representative on Earth, and the Communist party as the final arbiter on all issues in China.
In August, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the head of Hong Kong’s Catholic Church, revealed that the Vatican and Beijing had reached an initial agreement on the appointment of Catholic bishops on the mainland in an effort to secure a breakthrough in bilateral ties.
Two Chinese bishops recognised by the Holy See have now been ordained on the mainland, the latest sign of improving relations between China and the Vatican after years of hostility.
Father Wang Xiaoxun was ordained as coadjutor bishop in the Ankang diocese in Shanxi province. Father Joseph Tang Yuange, 53, was ordained as bishop reportedly amid a heavy police presence at Pinganqiao Cathedral in Chengdu, Sichuan province during the feast of St Andrew. Journalists were not allowed to attend.
The ceremony was chaired by Bishop Fang Xingyao, chairman of the Communist Party-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, in the presence of Fathers Luo Xuegang from the Yibin diocese, He Zeqing of the Wanzhou diocese in Chongqing, Chen Gongao of Nanchong in Jiangxi and Xiao Zejiang of Guiyang in Guizhou province, who are all jointly recognised by the Holy See and Beijing. An excommunicated bishop, Lei Shiyin of Leshan in Sichuan, is also said to have made his way into the ordination..
Tang was born into a Catholic family in Sichuan in 1963, and went on to study in the provincial Catholic seminary between 1984 and 1988. He has served in Sichuan and Hainan. He was voted bishop-designate of Chengdu in May 2014 during a government-sponsored election and was finally approved by the Holy See last year. In Chengdu, there are 20 priests, nine nuns and one seminarian serving about 100,000 members of the church.
“I see the compassion, tolerance and great love of the church and the understanding of the Holy See towards the churches in China,” Tang said. He added that he planned to organise more training sessions on spiritual studies.
The Vatican severed diplomatic ties with China in 1951, two years after the communists came to power. Relations between China and the Vatican have been strained by conflicts over the appointment of Catholic bishops and the Vatican’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
However, with Pope Francis’ support, a political dialogue with the Beijing authorities restarted in June 2014. Beijing oversees more than 12 million Catholics through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
Earlier this year Chinese authorities declared it would appoint new bishops without consulting the Vatican. Rev Dong Guanhua of Hebei,a priest in China’s underground Catholic Church, announced his ordination in September and offered to ordain others without the pope’s mandate. The move, however, was immediately condemned by other clergy of the underground church.
The Vatican in November denounced Rev Guanghua’s decision of to be ordained bishop without the pope’s approval. The statement was an apparent move by the Vatican to defuse tensions with China as negotiations proceed on reaching an overall agreement on bishop nominations.
Greg Burke, Director of the Vatican press office issued a statement saying the Holy See had not authorised any such ordinations and that, if true, they would constitute a “grave” crime in church law.
Declaration of Holy See Press Office concerning the purported episcopal ordinations without the Pontifical Mandate in Continental China:
“In recent weeks, there has been a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without Papal Mandate of priests of the unofficial community of the Catholic Church in Continental China.
The Holy See has not authorised any ordination, nor has it been officially informed of such events. Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.
The Holy See hopes that such reports are baseless. If not, it will have to await reliable information and sure documentation before adequately evaluating the cases. However, it is reiterated that it is not licit to proceed with any episcopal ordination without the necessary Papal Mandate, even by appealing to particular personal beliefs”.