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China considers ordaining seven more bishops amid rift with Vatican

The Vatican has already refused to recognise three bishops recently ordained by China’s state-controlled Catholic church.

A village woman shows a leaflet with a picture of Bishop Guo Jincai, which was distributed by worshipers after the bishop ordination ceremony in November
A village woman shows a leaflet with a picture of Bishop Guo Jincai, which was distributed by worshipers after the bishop ordination ceremony in November
Image: AP Photo/Andy Wong

CHINA’S STATE-CONTROLLED Catholic church is considering ordaining seven more bishops, in spite of a deepening rift with the Vatican over recent elevations lacking papal approval, according to a senior official.

China last week named a third bishop in eight months without the approval of the Holy See, which has escalated tensions. The Vatican insists the pope has sole right to appoint bishops, but Beijing’s Communist leaders see that position as foreign interference.

China’s bishops’ council is considering seven candidates who were chosen through local bishops’ elections, said Liu Bainian, honorary president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which runs China’s Catholic churches.

The candidates have been submitted to the Council of Chinese Bishops, Liu said. “Upon inspection and approval, when the conditions are ripe, the ordinations will take place.”

The China Daily newspaper said local churches in seven dioceses were getting ready to ordain bishops, citing the vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Rev. Joseph Guo Jincai. But Liu said the bishop candidates were not yet approved and that it would take at least three months from gaining approval for an ordination to take place.

Asked if the elected bishop candidates were approved by the Holy See, Liu said:

There’s no official channel for communications, but we cannot delay the election of our bishops because it is important to spread the Gospel. We hope that the Vatican will respect the outcome of our elections.

Beijing severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope’s authority.

Faithful on the mainland are allowed to worship only with the state-sanctioned church, which recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader but rejects his authority to appoint priests and bishops. A thriving underground following remains loyal to the Vatican.

Pope Benedict XVI has prioritized improving relations with Beijing and reconciling the two churches. A compromise under which both Beijing and Rome agreed on bishop candidates was reached but seems to have falled apart in recent months.

Vatican fury

The Vatican was furious over the ordinations of the Rev. Guo Jincai in Chengde city in November, the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin in Sichuan province a few weeks ago, and the Rev. Joseph Huang Bingzhang in Shantou last week. It does not recognize them as bishops.

A Belgian priest and expert on China-Vatican issues said both sides have contributed to the deterioration of ties and urged them to reopen dialogue on the issue of appointing bishops.

Rev. Jeroom Heyndrickx, director of Verbiest Institute at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium said:

What is happening now is very bad for both sides, for China as well as for the Holy See. Mainly, China shows that religious freedom in China is still a big problem. The way they pick up the bishops and force them to do these ordinations, makes China, in my view, lose face in the face of the whole world.

“On the other hand… for the church, if it wants to obtain a better situation for the church in China it would never gain this through confrontation and by breaking up the dialogue,” Heyndrickx said.

In June, the Patriotic Association said it had to urgently fill more than 40 empty bishops’ seats because the vacancies were hurting the handling of church affairs.

Read more: Vatican expels ‘bishop’ unofficially ordained by Chinese government>

- AP

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