Chinese authorities have installed a Catholic bishop as head of a diocese not recognized by Rome, the Vatican said in a statement on Saturday, adding that the move broke a 2018 agreement and the spirit of dialogue between the two sides.
The statement marked an escalation in the Vatican’s public expressions of frustration with Beijing, indicating it is losing patience over a contentious deal on the appointment of bishops that has so far brought little relief. concrete benefits to the papacy.
Vatican officials said they appreciate the deal with Beijing because it recognizes the pope as head of the Catholic Church in China and helps preserve the unity of the hierarchy and the faithful there.
But critics have said that by giving Beijing a say in the appointment of church leaders, the Vatican has given up an important principle of religious freedom while alienating Chinese Catholics who reject government control.
The Vatican’s statement of ‘surprise and regret’ came just a month after renewing the deal, the details of which are secret but which allows the Chinese government to appoint men to serve as Catholic bishops while giving the pope a veto.
China broke the deal, the Vatican says, when it held a ceremony in the southeastern city of Nanchang on Thursday to install Bishop John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, an unrecognized diocese. by the Vatican.
Bishop Peng had been ordained a bishop with the approval of the Vatican but as the head of another jurisdiction, the diocese of Yujiang.
China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Saturday.
Between 10 and 12 million Catholics in China are estimated to be split between those registered with the government and members of the so-called underground church, which rejects government control.
Since 2018, neither Beijing nor the Vatican has ordained bishops without the consent of the other party. Only six bishops were ordained during the same period, while some 40 dioceses in China still do not have a bishop.
According to a senior Vatican official, only a handful of underground bishops were officially recognized by the government at this time, in many cases because they refused, despite Vatican encouragement, to register with the government.
The Vatican had made it clear that it had not yet gained much from its deal with China.
“The record, I suppose, is not very impressive,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, told America, a Catholic publication, in July. “We would have liked to see more results, and there is a lot of work to do.”
However, Pope Francis told reporters in September that the dialogue “is going well, slowly, because the Chinese path is slow, they have an eternity to move forward: they are a people of endless patience… but we must move forward with dialogue”.
The attempted rapprochement came as the Chinese Communist Party under Xi Jinping stepped up government control of religion, including the Catholic Church.
Religious groups have been forced to revise their practices and teaching in line with Communist Party doctrine to develop what Xi called “socialist religious theories with Chinese characteristics” through a process of “Sinicization”.
On Friday, Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former bishop of Hong Kong and a longtime advocate of democracy in that country, was found guilty of failing to register a fund to help anti-government protesters.
Cardinal Zen, whose sentencing is part of a crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, strongly opposed the bishops’ deal, saying at a prayer meeting in the city last May: “The Vatican may have acted in good faith, but they made a reckless decision. »
The Vatican did not respond to a request for comment on the verdict.
—Keith Zhai in Singapore contributed to this article.
Write to Francis X. Rocca at [email protected]
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