BEIJING (Reuters) - China is poised to appoint another bishop to its state-run Catholic Church despite Vatican disapproval, escalating tensions with the Holy See as the two sides vie for influence over Chinese church affairs.
A priest in the Communist Party-approved church in the central province of Anhui is to be consecrated bishop of the province, a vice chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, Liu Bainian, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Liu Xinhong's appointment is opposed by the Vatican, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday.
Zen told the Hong Kong newspaper that the string of bishops promoted without Vatican approval suggested the state-run Patriotic Association was attempting to derail expanding dialogue between Beijing and the Vatican.
In the meantime, Cardinal Zen is of the opinion that the Holy See should halt plans for further talks with the People's Republic.
Cardinal: Vatican Should Stop China Talks
"There must be some explanation from the government before going on with the talks," he said.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post published Tuesday, he said the Sino-Vatican dialogue "cannot continue because people will think we are prepared to surrender. We cannot budge. When you brutally place such a fait accompli, how can you call this dialogue?"
China's Foreign Ministry issued a statement Tuesday defending the official church's right to ordain bishops without Vatican input and calling the Holy See's criticism of such appointments "groundless."
The Chinese church's vice chairman, Liu Bainian, said he believed the Vatican would not oppose Liu Xinhong's ordainment Wednesday but stressed Beijing had no diplomatic channels to communicate with the Holy See.
"We believe the pope will not disagree. We have not considered whether this ordainment will bring negative consequences on Sino-Vatican relations," Liu Bainian told Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK.
Zen said he doubts the Chinese government is fully behind the push to defy the Vatican and appoint new bishops. He said it was a bid by Liu Bainian and the official church to exercise power they will lose when Sino-Vatican ties are restored.
"I doubt that it comes from the top of the leadership," Zen said. "I don't think they would do such insensitive things."
Asis News has background on the candidate for this second ordination:
The candidate for the new illegal ordination is Fr Liu Xinhong, a diocesan administrator, ordained to the priesthood in 1990 after having studied theology at Shanghai’s official seminary. He is known by local Catholics as being “very close to the government.” In February, the Vatican had denied approval for his episcopal ordination. According to local sources, Fr Liu had accepted the Vatican’s decision; instead, now, he is agreeing to go through with the ceremony. This change of heart arrives just two days after another illegal ordination, carried out against the Vatican’s wishes, which took place in Kunming April 30. AsiaNews source in Anhui say that Catholics do not know whether the Vatican has approved or not the ordination, but that the Patriotic Association is giving it much publicity and is pressuring people to take part in the ceremony. The ordaining bishop prelate will be Monsignor Wu Shizhen, Archbishop of the Nanchang diocese (Jiangxi). While priests, nuns and laypeople of the official Church are preparing the ceremony in the Saint Joseph Cathedral of Wuhu, members of the underground Church are spreading the news that the ordination is illicit, not having been mandated by the Holy See.
Asia News also has follow-up on the Father Ma ordination.
During the ceremony, Fr Ma, said he "felt inadequate in shouldering the task", adding that he wanted to "follow Saint Peter's teaching to be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake". Thus he intends to "lead all priests, nuns, seminarians and lay Catholics in the diocese to obey the national constitution, to maintain the unification of the country and solidarity of the society, and to contribute to the building of an affluent society and the building of a harmonious socialist country".
Fr Ma is one of the three Catholic representatives who are members of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament. According to the Code of Canon Law, his political commitment is incompatible with his episcopal appointment.
After all that, I think it's safe to say that for the moment, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Assocation has successfully derailed the talks between the PRC and the Holy See. The ulterior motive seems to be to reassert the CPA's power in the face of growing influence from Rome. But that doesn't necessarily explain why the Communist Party leadership is allowing it. I made the point and Cardinal Zen made the same point that the CPA wants to end the talks, but with a second ordination in the offing, we have to remember the fact that this is mainland communist China, a totalitarian state that has no qualms about making people disappear into the Bamboo Gulag.
A hypothesis I just considered is this: Benedict XVI and now his point man, Cardinal Zen, are proving to be not as pliable as the PRC would have liked. Perhaps the PRC is using the Patriotic Association to drive the wedge and break off talks without directly exposing the government to this loss of face...
Who knows! We'll see what else they do in the coming days.