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Shanxi seminary suspends school term

Priest denies government is intervening, claims rumours are wide of mark

The Montecorvino Major Seminary of Shanxi The Montecorvino Major Seminary of Shanxi
  • ucanews.com reporter, Taiyuan
  • China
  • September 15, 2011
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The Montecorvino Major Seminary in Shanxi province, northern China, has not re-opened for the academic year beginning September due to a controversy over the dismissal of its rector.

Convening a board meeting on June 18, Bishop John Huo Cheng of Fenyang, chairman of the board of directors, announced the decision to dismiss the seminary’s rector Father Anthony Chang Tongxi and begin the summer break with immediate effect. The meeting was attended by three bishops and two diocesan administrators.

All seminarians who have not taken examinations were told to return to their respective dioceses or congregations within three days, Church sources said.

Fr Chang, 45, of Taiyuan diocese is accused over problems in management and personal conduct. He is suspected of embezzling the seminary’s funds, said various Church sources.

They said the provincial government's religious affairs bureau has intervened and said the board’s act lacked official permission and violated the regulations on religious affairs.

The bureau demanded Bishop Huo, 85, to retract all decisions made towards the seminary.

The commencement of the new semester has to be postponed, as preparations were impeded after the board brought chaos in the seminary management, said the sources, citing a notice in late August.

However, Fr Chang denied the government is intervening. “I am a priest. I obey the bishops. I am still waiting for the board to solve this matter and make further notice,” he claimed today.

“If the board thinks I am no longer suitable, they should talk with me in advance but they did not,” he said. Any accusation or rumor about him is incorrect, he maintained, doubting the “unexpected incident was a scramble for power.”

Seminarians, teachers and many clergy in Shanxi say they are sad and helpless about the delay to the start of term, with no start date in sight.

An alumnus said, “Fr Chang may be not democratic in management or transparent in financial matters, while the board’s decision may be over-hasty.” He regretted the interference of the government which has complicated the situation.

Another source worried that if Fr Chang resumed his post through government pressure, all teaching staff would be reshuffled sooner or later.

“The seminarians suffer the most,” he said. He was worried the dioceses may hesitate to send young men to the seminary after this issue.

Some seminarians are now attending classes in their own dioceses while waiting for the seminary to open.

A Church leader said the government should allow the seminary to reopen. “The board's decision is done on the basis that the rector is not suitable. Bishops have the full authority to guide and make decisions for the seminary and the formation of future clergy. So this is purely a Church matter.”

Fr Chang was appointed as the fifth rector in 2009. Reopened in 1985, the regional seminary for Shanxi province has nurtured nearly 200 priests. It currently has some 70 seminarians, eight full-time and five part-time teachers.

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