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Pope recognizes ‘illicitly transferred’ Chinese bishop

The Vatican has twice accused China of violating the 2018 agreement on bishop appointments
Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai

Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai (Photo: UCA News Directory)

Published: July 18, 2023 08:12 AM GMT
Updated: July 18, 2023 09:29 AM GMT

Pope Francis has recognized Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai who was allegedly transferred and installed by the Chinese regime without prior consultation in an apparent breach of the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement.

The pope recognized Bishop Shen on July 15 for the “greater good of the diocese,” Vatican News reported.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said that the pope had "decided nevertheless to rectify the canonical irregularity” after Beijing unilaterally transferred Bishop Bin from Haimen diocese.

In an interview with the Vatican media, Cardinal Parolin reiterated the Vatican’s stand on the need for “open dialogue” and “respectful encounter with the Chinese side,” regarding bishop appointments and transfers.

“All episcopal appointments in China, including transfers, be made by consensus, as agreed, and to keep alive the spirit of dialogue between the parties. Together we must prevent disharmonious situations that create disagreements and misunderstandings,” Cardinal Parolin said.

The Vatican issued a statement to lament after Bishop Shen was transferred from Haimen to Shanghai in April, saying it was not consulted before the decision was made as required by the 2018 agreement.

"Proper application of the agreement allows for avoiding such difficulties"

The provisions of the China-Vatican agreement were never made public, but it reportedly allows both parties to agree or disagree on appointment of bishops in the communist-ruled nation. It was renewed in 2020 and 2022, each time for two years.

Chinese authorities have long insisted that it must approve such appointments as a matter of national sovereignty. On the other hand, the Vatican has insisted on the pope’s divine authority to choose the bishops in China.

Cardinal Parolin pointed out that “the proper application of the agreement allows for avoiding such difficulties,” referring to the appointments and transfers of bishops in China.

Last November, the Vatican issued another statement of regret, essentially accusing the Chinese government of violating the agreement when Bishop John Peng Weizhao of Yujiang was installed as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, "a diocese not recognized by the Holy See."

Cardinal Parolin also pointed out three matters that in his opinion “urgently need to be dealt with.”

He stressed the need for the Catholic Church in China to have an Episcopal Conference, the need for communication by the Chinese bishops with the pope, and evangelization.

Cardinal Parolin emphasized that the creation of an Episcopal Conference would make it possible to bring to fruition the Holy See's desire “to see growth in the responsibility of the bishops in the leadership of the Church in China.”

The prelate stressed that regular communication between the pope and Chinese bishops is “indispensable for effective communion, knowing that all this belongs to the structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church,” which the Chinese authorities “have always said they do not want to alter.”

Cardinal Parolin also stated that the underground Catholics who are defined as “clandestine” also “deserve trust.”

"It is 'mistrust towards Catholicism that needs to be overcome'"

“Because they sincerely want to be loyal citizens and be respected in their conscience and in their faith,” the prelate added.

Therefore, it is “mistrust towards Catholicism that needs to be overcome, which is not a religion to be considered foreign, let alone contrary, to the culture of that great people,” the prelate said.

Cardinal Parolin also voiced his hope of opening a Holy See liaison office in China to help dialogue between the two parties become “more fluid and fruitful.”

He stated that the office “would not only favor dialogue with the civil authorities but also contribute to full reconciliation within the Chinese Church and its journey towards a desirable normality.”

Terming the Vatican-China agreement as “historic,” Cardinal Parolin reiterated the need for applying the provisions of the agreement in the “most correct manner possible.”

The Holy See, Cardinal Parolin assured, “is determined to do its part to ensure that the journey continues.”

China severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican after the communists took over and expelled all foreign priests in the 1950s.

However, the Vatican has sought in recent years to open contacts and reduce friction, particularly over the appointment of bishops.

The Vatican-China rift has divided Chinese Catholics into two factions — the state-sanctioned Patriotic Catholic Association and the underground church loyal to the pope.

With no exact statistics available, media reports suggest the estimated total number of Catholics in China is between 6 million and 12 million.

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