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Forum unveils state-sponsored study on Chinese dioceses

Report takes a look at the historical development of dioceses in China

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong

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Forum unveils state-sponsored study on Chinese dioceses

Chinese Catholics pray at Our Lady of Sheshan Basilica Catholic Church in Shanghai on May 24, 2013. (Photo by AFP)

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The findings of a 3-year long, state-sponsored study on the jurisdiction of Catholic dioceses in China were unveiled at an academic forum in Zhengzhou city, July 18-19.

The Center for the Study of Christianity at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), Beijing and the Institute of Religious Culture Studies at Anyang Normal University, Henan jointly hosted the event.

Professor Liu Zhiqing, director of the Institute of Religious Culture Studies, briefed the forum on the report "Historical Development and Recent Situation of Dioceses in the China Church."

"So far there are not many publications, in Chinese or foreign languages, that have undertaken a systematic study of Catholic dioceses in China. There was only sketchy information with regards to this topic in church history publications," Liu told ucanews.com.

"Our work was to comb through the history, analyze the current situation and design for the future," he said.

Since diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican were suspended following the expulsion of the Apostolic Internuncio in 1951, the Vatican continues to use the diocesan structure established in 1946. This structure is recognized by the "underground" church community, which refuses to submit to the control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).

Under the independent church principle, the government-sanctioned "open" church community began to adjust the jurisdictions of certain dioceses from the 1980s. For example, four dioceses were combined into a new Guangxi Diocese in 2002 and three dioceses in Anhui province were combined as Anhui Diocese in 2001.

In some cases the Vatican has been willing to align its structure with the Beijing-led changes. For example, the Chinese authorities regard Bishop Qu Ailin of Hunan as bishop of the entire Hunan province. The Vatican approved him as Bishop of Changsha, the provincial capital, and at the same time appointed him apostolic administrator of the remaining eight dioceses in Hunan province.

Liu's report suggested that the adjustment of diocesan boundaries should be based on the following principles: respect of church traditions on ecclesiastical provinces, archbishops and deaneries; improving management mechanisms; giving considerations to the position of the CCPA, the fundamental structure of a diocese, the existing and newly-appointed bishops; as well as the crucial role bishops play in church development, which may affect social stability.

The Zhengzhou forum was the second time the CASS' Center for the Study of Christianity and the Institute of Religious Culture Studies have collaborated together. The two institutes jointly held a seminar on the history of Christianity in China last October.

"For a long time, the study of the Catholic Church in China was relatively backward. We are striving to establish a platform to improve this," Liu said. He hopes such forums will influence government policy regarding religious affairs.

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