ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: October 24, 2017 05:11 AM GMT
Twenty Chinese priests have demanded that 85-year-old Bishop Louis Yu Runshen of Hanzhong (above) resign from his position. (Photo supplied)
A group of priests in northern China have accused their bishop of corruption and have demanded that he steps down.
Twenty priests from Hanzhong Diocese in Shaanxi province demanded via a letter seen by ucanews.com that 85-year-old Bishop Louis Yu Runshen — who has dual recognition from the government and the Vatican — steps down. Vatican-approved Coadjutor Bishop Matthias Yu Chengxin, 87, who is partially paralyzed, also signed the letter but in his capacity as a priest.
Each of the priests signed and left a red thumb mark on the letter dated Nov. 22 which also asked the government to investigate six issues they say violated rules from the Regulations for Religious Affairs and the bishops' conference.
Speaking to ucanews.com Bishop Louis Yu has denied the allegations, saying, "Two to three priests want to be bishop and forced their fellow priests to sign the letter."
Three of the issues outlined in the letter were related to Bishop Louis Yu's alleged corruption and mismanagement of church assets that the letter says diminished the clergy's ability to operate, causing large losses for the diocese that serves some 15,000 Catholics.
They allege that Bishop Louis Yu sold church property way below market value in Wuhan city last July. The letter said that this was done without consent from all priests and it was done without following documented rules on handling assets. Bishop Louis Yu told ucanews.com that the Wuhan property was sold for around 14 million yuan. "There was no discussion of how much it should be sold and now they blame me," he said.
The letter said that the bishop received an annual subsidy of US$5,000 from the Holy See but surrendered it only once to the curia. In several occasions, Bishop Louis Yu kept annual profits of 20,000 yuan (US$2,900) generated from a church-run hostel for his own use. Speaking to ucanews.com Bishop Louis Yu also denied receiving money from the Vatican or the hostel run by Xian Diocese.
The priests allege in the letter that the bishop took advantage of a redevelopment project for the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel to buy an apartment for his adopted grandnephew. The apartment they say is worth more than 500,000 yuan. The cathedral's grounds of 10,000 square meters shrank to 2,666 square meters after the redevelopment. The bishop did not offer any explanation, the letter detailed.
In his interview with ucanews.com, the bishop admitted there was a redevelopment project but did not give any details or explanations, while stressing that the apartment he bought for his grandnephew has nothing to do with the diocese.
The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel of Hanzhong Diocese. (Photo supplied)
Sowing discord on succession issue
Additionally, the priests say that Bishop Louis Yu should have retired according to the church law, and more so for the unity of the diocese.
It is mandatory for a bishop to tender his resignation before reaching age 75 but bishops in China do not always follow the rule.
The priests further accused Bishop Louis Yu of sowing discord among the priests in relation to who would be his successor.
Bishop Louis Yu said his retirement is unrelated to the complaint letter.
"I have written to the Vatican telling them my intention to retire. They told me to tender a formal resignation. My letter has not been sent as I am busy due to the Chinese New Year holidays,” said Bishop Louis Yu. "I will do so a few days later," he added.
But one church worker told ucanews.com that the bishop would tell others that a certain priest wanted to be the next bishop.
"The other clergy would see that priest as ambitious and they would isolate him. He has done this to hurt several priests already," said the church worker who asked not to be named.
The church source that provincial government officials were also unhappy with the bishop as "he gave them one name today and changed his mind the next day" when they asked him for a list of candidates several years ago. The provincial government knows he does not want to retire, said the church worker.
All the candidates Bishop Louis Yu nominated were ordained by himself while he overlooked those who were ordained by late Bishop Bartholomew Yu Chengdi, the underground bishop of Hanzhong who died in 2009, even though those priests had more respect from Catholics, said the the church worker.
The underground and open church communities merged in 2005 on the occasion of a requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II.
Arbitrary appointment and dismissal
The letter from the priests said that Bishop Louis Yu appoints and dismisses members in diocesan units arbitrarily, and majority of them were often uninformed of important church affairs.
The church source said that the government had decided to settle the successor issue in 2017 and questioned a few possible candidates. Meanwhile the clergy have all expressed they want a general election. "They simply don't have confidence to let an irresponsible bishop to pick his successor," said the church worker.
Another church source told ucanews.com that among the 27 priests in Hanzhong Diocese, three chose not to sign the letter and four were unable to sign for logistical reasons.
One priest who signed the letter told ucanews.com that he now feels "uncomfortable in the way we treated Bishop Louis Yu, even though the contents were true."
A local source told ucanews.com that the government learnt about the letter a week after it was signed. News of its content only started to spread recently via internet chat groups, said the source.