In the second such significant incident in two weeks, China’s state-sanctioned Catholic Church has approved and installed a Vatican-appointed underground bishop at a public function.
Bishop Peter Li Huiyuan of Fengxiang Diocese in landlocked Shaanxi province was installed as bishop in a June 22 ceremony overseen by Bishop Dang Mingyan, deputy secretary-general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
The 55-year-old Bishop Li is the fourth underground bishop to be approved by the state-sanctioned open church since the Vatican and China signed an agreement in September 2018 on regularizing the appointment of bishops.
Some 150 people, including bishops in the region and lay representatives of Bishop Li’s diocese, attended the ceremony at St. Joseph's Cathedral of Fengxiang Diocese.
Bishop Dang, seen as the head of the state-approved church, presented Bishop Li with the mitre, sceptre and ring — all symbols of the leadership and pastoral duties of a Catholic bishop.
Bishop Li celebrated the Mass during the ceremony. He promised to abide by China's constitution, uphold the unity of the motherland and social harmony, and love the country and religion.
He and his laity will “insist on the independence of our own Church, on the direction of Chinese Catholicism, and on contributing to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great revival of the Chinese nation and its strength,” he vowed.
Bishop Li’s approval follows a similar ceremony on June 9 in which 83-year-old underground Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan of Fuzhou in Fujian province was publicly installed.
The Vatican appointed Bishop Li as a coadjutor bishop without publicly announcing it. Bishops at a 2011 regional synod elected him following all the regulations of the CCPA.
The bishops also invited state officials to supervise the election and to confirm that it was in accordance with the laws. Bishop Li’s 2011 election as coadjutor bishop was declared valid, but the CCPA refused to give a date for his consecration.
However, Bishop Li’s predecessor Bishop Li Jingfeng died on Nov. 17, 2017, leaving the leadership of the diocese to Bishop Li, who was then not recognized by the government.
The Diocese of Fengxiang did not register with CCPA until May 2019 when a CCPA unit was established in the diocese and Bishop Li was elected as the chairman of that CCPA.
The other two bishops recognized by China following the Vatican-China agreement were Bishop Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou and Bishop Jin Lugang of Nanyang. Bishop Zhuang retired immediately in January 2019. Eight days later, Bishop Jin was approved.
The Vatican-China deal on bishops is due for revision and renewal in September.
Bishop appointments remain a thorny issue as the Vatican insists they are its prerogative. But China looks at the issue as interference by a foreign power in the internal affairs of the nation and wants to appoint bishops on its own.
The 2018 agreement, the details of which are still secret, is considered a landmark development since the Vatican and China severed diplomatic relations in 1951.