China July 31, 2015

Ceremony seen as possible benchmark for state of Vatican-China relations

When Father Joseph Zhang Yinlin is ordained bishop of Anyang in Henan province on August 4, he will become the first publicly ordained Chinese bishop in three years and the first since the Vatican and China restarted its dialogue in June 2014.

The last public ordination occurred on July 7, 2012, when Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was installed as an auxiliary in Shanghai. Bishop Ma immediately resigned his post in protest against the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and remains under house arrest.

Fr Zhang will also be the first Chinese bishop to be ordained publicly since Pope Francis was elected to the papacy in March 2013.

The ordination, with papal approval, initially was planned for July 29. The diocese decided to postpone the date to Aug. 4 to coincide with the feast day of St John Vianney, the patron saint for priests.

In an interview, Fr Zhang told that he could not confirm which bishops would preside at the ordination.

“We sent out invitations to several bishops but cannot confirm who is attending,” he said.

The presence of an illicit bishop not recognized by the Vatican is a way for the Communist Party to show its control of the Church. If an illicit bishop plays a role in the ordination, this could be a sign of the state of China-Vatican relations, sources said.

At least three bishops are required to be present for an Episcopal ordination. In the case of China, at least one of the bishops present needs to be Vatican-approved.

Bishop Ma said publicly after his ordination: “It is inconvenient for me to serve the Catholic Patriotic Association.” Since then, he has been under house arrest at Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai.

An illicit bishop participated in the ordination.

The Catholic Patriotic Association is a government-sanctioned body designed to control the Catholic Church in China.

Fr Zhang, 44, was elected a bishop on April 28. He was previously approved for ordination by the Vatican.

In China, most bishop elections are arranged by the bishops’ conference, which is composed of bishops who have registered with the government. However, many bishop candidates receive papal approval beforehand. Most voters support the Vatican’s choice. Those who don’t support the Holy See usually reflect their disagreement through abstaining.

Church members across China also complain that government officials manipulate the election, as the process involves not only priests, but also nuns, seminarians and lay leaders, who make up half the voters.

Another Vatican-approved candidate for bishop, Father Cosmos Ji Chengyi of Zhumadian in the same province of Henan, was also elected in April. But a date for his ordination is still unknown.