Bishop candidate Father Ding Lingbin (center, left) with SARA director Wang Zuoan (center, right) during an inspection trip to Changzhi diocese last year (Photo supplied)
China will continue its practice of electing and ordaining bishops independent of the Holy See, according to a 2015 working plan by the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA). The plan, which appeared on the SARA website on January 15, was the product of a national meeting of religious officials in Beijing on December 26-27, in which SARA director Wang Zuoan is quoted as saying “2015 will be a very important year for religious work”. Wang added that the administration’s work “must be done according to religious regulations, promote the rule of law and take the opinion of the faithful into consideration when implementing religious policies and directions of the central government” because of outstanding issues. These outstanding issues, according to the working plan, include support for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the bishop’s conference in proceeding with the independent election and ordination of bishops. The issue of independent ordinations has been a principal obstacle to peaceful relations between Beijing and the Vatican, which demands the right to name its own prelates, and the working plan indicates that illicit episcopal ordinations done in defiance of the Holy See would continue.
Since the last episcopal ordination in 2012, there remain a handful of bishop candidates awaiting approval from the bishops’ conference that have not been recognized by the Vatican, including Father Joseph Tang Yuange of Chengdu, who was elected in May last year. The working plan also instructs the two Church bodies to “convene the National Catholic Representatives Congress, strengthen their leadership-building and promote democracy in running the Catholic Church”. The congress, comprising elected clergy, Religious and laypeople, convenes every five years and oversees the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the bishops’ conference — and thus is deemed to be at variance from the Catholic Church hierarchy. In a statement in 2010, the Vatican said it was “with profound sorrow” that it saw the eighth national congress convene in that year and warned Catholic clergy and laypeople not to participate in the event. In an effort to promote what it calls the rule of law, the working plan further announced that the administration would monitor all religious personnel serving in Church venues and would instruct religious venues and seminaries to open their individual bank accounts. In addition, the working plan will begin conferring work certificates to the faculty of the National Seminary in Beijing as well as conferring bachelor’s degrees to seminarians and commencing formation of postgraduate students. In the same meeting last year, SARA also published a work report from 2014, in which the Catholic Church was mentioned only once. The 2014 report noted “difficult and hot issues that need to be solved”, including to “implement thoroughly the regulations with regard to bishops’ election, push forward a norm on election and ordination of bishops, and to enhance formation of middle-aged and young clergy”.
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