Updated: May 17, 2021 11:16 AM GMT
Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Chendge Diocese with three newly ordained priests in Zhangjiakou Diocese on May 11. (Photo: Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China)
A Catholic bishop in northern China has ordained three priests for a diocese not recognized by the Vatican in a move that allegedly defies the Vatican-China agreement on the Church’s administration in the communist country.
Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai of Chengde Diocese in Hebei province ordained the priests for Zhangjiakou Diocese on May 11, according to the state-aligned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC).
Bishop Guo’s action goes against the papal mandate given to him as bishop of Chengde. Overstepping his mandate to accept a state-established diocese will further divide the Church in China, officials say.
“The Diocese of Zhangjiakou is an illegal diocese not recognized by the Holy See. It is a historical product that divides the Church, corrupting its unity of communion,” Xuanhua Diocese said in a statement on May 13.
“As we all know, the creation of dioceses is the responsibility of the Holy See,” added the statement signed by Auxiliary Bishop Simone Zhang Jianlin of Xuanhua Diocese in the district of Zhangjiakou.
Pope Francis lifted the excommunications of Bishop Guo along with six other Chinese bishops in September 2018 after the Vatican-China agreement on bishops’ appointments was signed.
The Diocese of Xuanhua has a very clear position on ordination
Bishop Guo incurred excommunication after he was ordained without a pontifical mandate in 2010 by the state-controlled church, called the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
While lifting the excommunication in 2018, Pope Francis also created Chengde Diocese to allow Bishop Guo to have a diocese of his own without sharing pastoral power with other bishops.
The Chinese government established Zhangjiakou Diocese in 1980 and the territory it claims belongs to two Vatican-recognized dioceses — Xuanhua and Xiwanzi — both in Hebei.
In 2013, the Vatican appointed Bishop Augustine Cui Tai to head Xuanhua Diocese but police detained him on April 7, 2013, soon after his ordination. His whereabouts are still unknown.
The latest priestly ordinations are “illegal” because they did not follow the discipline of the Church, said the statement from Xuanhua Diocese.
The candidacies of the new priests “have not been discussed with Bishop Cui Tai, nor have they obtained any delegation from the present bishop of the diocese,” the statement said.
“The Diocese of Xuanhua has a very clear position on ordination,” Bishop Zhang said, adding that the three newly ordained priests will not be allowed to minister in Xuanhua Diocese.
Besides, any priests of Xuanhua who minister in other dioceses or communities “will automatically lose all right of administration in the Diocese of Xuanhua,” the statement said.
The ordination was reportedly pushed by Father Wang Zhengui, the government-appointed administrator of Zhangjiakou Diocese.
Father Wang reportedly sought to increase the number of priests in the diocese ahead of the Olympics
He could be aiming to impress the government ahead of the coveted Winter Olympics next February to be held in Beijing and towns in Hebei including in Chongli district covered by Zhangjiakou, some reports said.
Father Wang reportedly sought to increase the number of priests in the diocese ahead of the Olympics when many tourists including Catholics are expected to flock to the area.
Chongli village in Xiwanzi is one of the sites where hundreds of Catholics were massacred during the communist uprising in 1946 as many Catholics were anti-communists.
Hebei province has some million Catholics, with 30,000 in Chengde Diocese who are mostly farmers.