ucanews.com reporter, Hong KongUpdated: November 14, 2016 09:46 AM GMT
Bishop Jin Daoyuan (in gold vestment) sits in the center while new Coadjutor Bishop Ding Lingbin sits on his left, just after Bishop Ding's ordination early November. (Photo supplied)
The latest round of China-Vatican negotiations to resolve the issue of the appointment of bishops is believed to have taken place in Rome in the first week on November and the two sides appear to be closing in on a long-hoped for deal.
The pace of negotiations has increased with the first ordination of a joint Vatican-Beijing approved bishop this year, Father Peter Ding Lingbin as bishop of Changzhi, in the week following the talks on Nov. 10.
This indicates that obstacles appear to be falling away in getting consensus on both sides with Beijing recognizing him in the lesser role of coadjutor bishop due to the continued existence of a Beijing appointed bishop in the diocese. That is Bishop Andrea Jin Daoyuan, 87, appointed by Beijing without papal approval in 2000 but who has since been pardoned and recognized by the Vatican as bishop but without any authority to manage the diocese.
However, retired Bishop Jin remains the bishop of the diocese on the government’s record and the ordination of the younger Bishop Ding was described as the "ordination of coadjutor bishop of Changzhi" in all printed records.
A coadjutor bishop jointly administers the diocese with the bishop and he is the effective next in line as bishop of the diocese.
The Vatican has continually refused to comment on talks between the two sides and insiders have suggested that a deal may not be reached this year, despite Pope Francis' desire for an agreement before the end of November — when the Year of Mercy ends and when he can pardon a number of Beijing appointed bishops who have never received approval from the Vatican.
While there are eight such bishops, ucanews.com understands there are serious obstacles to the Vatican being able to pardon a number of them, including for forbidden conjugal arrangements as well as having children.
However, more episcopal ordinations are expected in the weeks to come.
Bishop Ding was ordained by Bishop Li Shan of Beijing, a vice president of the government-sanctioned bishops' conference, at the Sacred Heart Cathedral in central Shanxi province on Nov 10. The other two bishops who were part of the episcopal ordination were Bishops Li Suguang of Nanchang (Jiangsu) and Wu Junwei of Yuncheng (Xinjiang of Shanxi). Bishop Jin, Bishops Meng Ningyou of Taiyuan and Zhang Yinlin of Anyang also concelebrated in the liturgy. All the bishops have dual approval from the Vatican and Beijing.
The Holy See approved Father Ding as Bishop of Changzhi in 2013. However, the Chinese government was ready to recognize him only as coadjutor of Bishop Jin.
"The gesture means the Communist regime has never compromised on its control on naming its bishops," said a priest observer in China who asked not to be named.
The ceremony was attended by more than 2,000 Catholics, though the authorities had set a limit of 1,200 participants.
"Attendees had to bring their ID cards but were not allowed to bring cameras, mobile phones, bottled water or handbags. There was reception interference on mobile phones at the venue," a local source told ucanews.com.
The jurisdiction of Changzhi Diocese covers the cities of Changzhi and Jincheng with a population of 3.6 million people. It has 47 priests and 19 seminarians to serve about 55,000 Catholics.
This is not the first time Beijing and the Holy See have had different interpretations of the recognition of a bishop's status in the China Church especially in places where the underground community exists as the Catholic hierarchy only allows one main bishop in each diocese.
In 2012, the bishops' conference controlled by the government ordained Father Ma Daqin as "coadjutor bishop of Shanghai," though he was appointed by the Vatican as auxiliary bishop since Bishop Fan Zhongliang and Coadjutor Bishop Jin Luxian of Shanghai were still alive then.
Bishop Ding Lingbin of Changzhi is the first Vatican/Beijing approved bishop this year. (Photo supplied)
Medical doctor turns bishop
Bishop Ding was born to a Catholic family on July 20, 1962. He became a doctor after graduating from Changzhi Medical College in 1982. He then entered the Central-Southern Catholic Seminary in Wuhan in 1988 and was ordained a priest in 1992. He became the chancellor of the diocese in 2011.
On Dec. 13, 2013, Father Ding was "elected" as a candidate for coadjutor bishop under the Chinese government's self-described "democratic" episcopal selection. However, local sources told ucanews.com that the election came shortly after he received the Vatican's appointment.
In late 2014, the director of State Administration for Religious Affairs told the diocesan clergy that Father Ding would be the first bishop to be ordained in 2015 but the ordination was put off for unknown reasons.
The ceremony was the first episcopal ordination held this year and the first since one in Anyang Diocese, central Henan province, in August 2015. That was concelebrated by 150 priests from local and neighboring dioceses and also two foreign missionaries.