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China

Chinese underground bishop skips retirement Mass

Veteran Shantou prelate Zhuang Jianjian told to retire and be replaced by former illicit bishop

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

Updated: January 25, 2019 10:52 AM GMT
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Chinese underground bishop skips retirement Mass

Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian (pictured above) was asked by a Vatican delegation to step down for Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang who was previously excommunicated but was recognized by the Vatican after the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops was reached with Beijing in September. (Photo supplied)

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A Chinese underground bishop snubbed his own retirement Mass after not agreeing to retire.

Bishop Zhuang Jianjian attended a retirement ceremony held by Shantou Diocese but was absent from a Mass presided over by Bishop Huang Bingzhang who was excommunicated until he was accepted by Pope Francis after the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops was signed last September.

A Vatican delegation travelled to China last month to oversee the placement of formerly illicit bishops into dioceses that had been run by underground bishops.

Bishop Zhuang, 88, told ucanews.com on Dec. 17 that he had visited Beijing and that Holy See representative Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli had asked him to retire, but he had not replied.

Bishop Huang, 52, is Bishop Zhuang's replacement. 

An underground Catholic told ucanews.com that the Sino-Vatican agreement aims to unite the open and underground churches but most of the priests who support Bishop Zhuang were reminded by authorities not to attend the Shantou ceremony and Mass.

A priest said: "They [the officials] are scared to death if we attend, so we are banned."

According to chinacatholic.cn, a website run by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), the retirement ceremony-cum-Mass was held on Jan. 22 at Hepo Catholic Church in Jiexi County in Jieyang City in Shantou.

The church is where Bishop Zhuang resides and serves as parish priest and it was the first time that Bishop Huang had presided over a Mass there.

The retirement ceremony was hosted by Bishop Su Yongda of Zhanjiang. CCPA and BCCCC vice-president Bishop Shen Bin read out the approval by BCCCC of assigning Bishop Zhuang as Shantou's emeritus bishop, and then Bishop Zhuang and Bishop Huang both delivered addresses.

The website reported that the Mass was presided over by Bishop Huang and concelebrated by Bishop Shen, Bishop Su, Bishop Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou, Bishop Liao Hongqing of Meizhou and Bishop Liang Jiansen of Jiangmen.

Bishop Zhuang told ucanews.com that he did not attend the Mass.

Over 30 priests, deacons, brothers, nuns and over 200 Catholics and guests from Guangdong attended.

"It is so weird that the [chinacatholic.cn] report has only two paragraphs to describe the event without any photos or details of speeches. This is quite different from the usual practice of reporting in detail with lots of photos," a source called Peter told ucanews.com.

He said government officials and the bishops of Guangdong held a meeting before the Mass to declare that Bishop Zhuang was recognized as a bishop but he was retired "since this is the decision of Rome."

Peter said the Mass had three underlying meanings: Bishop Huang was presiding as a diocesan bishop; Bishop Zhuang had retired; and the BCCCC and Guangdong provincial CCPA and BCCCC recognized Bishop Zhuang as a bishop.

Meanwhile, a Shantou Catholic said that Hong Kong Emeritus Bishop Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun wrote in his blog on Jan. 21 that he received news from Shantou last year on the letter sent by the Holy See to Bishop Zhuang stating that "he still can continue to take care of his priests."

"It means this is like a structure of personal jurisdiction in the church — Bishop Zhuang continues to lead his priests as a prelate but Catholics are under the governance of the diocese, so why did Shantou Diocese still hold the retirement ceremony?" he asked.

He said that even though Bishop Zhuang is now "retired," China and the Vatican should resolve the issue of his original successor, Father Zhuo Yanchang, who was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as coadjutor bishop but has not yet been consecrated.

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