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Observer warns against bishop elections

Vote for Guangdong diocese candidate takes place amid heavy security

Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou
  • ucanews.com reporter, Shantou
  • China
  • May 12, 2011
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Shantou diocese in southern Guangdong province held a vote yesterday on a bishop candidate under the watchful eye of public security officers, while a Church observer has warned against filling vacant sees with unsuitable candidates.

Seventy-two people cast their ballots yesterday, including 15 priests, five nuns, two seminarians and 50 laypersons. The result saw 66 votes in favor and three votes against Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang, who was the only candidate. There were three abstentions.

One priest said he was “accompanied by several security officers to the election venue,” where there were more plainclothes “helpers” than voters. He said he felt very sad that the election was not held in accordance with the Church principle, but took place in such a heavy-handed atmosphere.

Some who voted for Father Huang said they had no choice, admitting they did not act according to their consciences but for the sake of their careers and families, Church sources revealed.

Local authorities tightened their control over the vote to ensure it went smoothly. They had planned to make Father Huang a bishop for years but faced opposition as Shantou diocese already has a bishop, they said.

Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, who was appointed by the pope in 2006, is not recognized by the Chinese government. He has been under surveillance since Holy Week in April and cannot venture out to conduct his pastoral ministry.

As well as the 81-year-old bishop, five of the 20 diocesan priests did not participate in the vote. Three were under surveillance and their movements restricted to their respective parishes. Another was detained at the public security bureau while another was in hiding.

Born in 1967, Father Huang entered the Central and Southern Theological and Philosophical Seminary in 1985 and became a priest in 1991. Since then he has served as the parish priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

Since 1998, he has served three five-year terms as a deputy of the National People’s Congress (China’s parliament). He is also a vice-chairperson of the government-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and chairman of the Guangdong Catholic Patriotic Association.

Earlier, on May 10, Chengdu diocese in southwestern Sichuan province also held a bishop candidate ballot. Father Simon Li Zhigang got 41 out of 45 votes.

About a dozen episcopal ordinations are expected to take place this year with a few cases not being approved by the Holy See.

A Church observer close to the Vatican warned that China’s “open” Church authorities’ selection of bishop candidates who are not suitable or acceptable will “create more tension inside the Church and in society.”

“These candidates know they cannot be approved but they press ahead with these elections, and eventually their ordinations. What is the benefit for them or the authorities to create tension?” he questioned.

END

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