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Vatican accuses China of unilaterally appointing bishop despite agreement

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(TibetanReview.net, Nov27’22) – The Sino-Vatican agreement on the appointment of bishops in China signed in 2018 was highly controversial and its terms still remain secret. And now, in a we-told-you-so moment, the Vatican has on Nov 26 expressed regret at the appointment of a bishop in a diocese in China that the Holy See does not recognize.

It was only last month that the Vatican said it had renewed for the second time the secretive provisional deal allowing both Beijing and the Holy See a say in appointing bishops in China.

“The Holy See noted with surprise and regret the news of the ‘installation ceremony’ on Nov 24 in Nanchang of Monsignor Giovanni Peng Weizhao, bishop of Yujiang (Jiangxi Province) as ‘auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi’,” the AFP Nov 26 quoted the Vatican as saying in a statement.

“This event did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican parties and the Chinese parties and with what was stipulated in the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops” of 2018.

The Vatican has, however, sought to mainly blame local authorities for the violation of the agreement. It has said the “civil recognition” of the new bishop “was proceeded, according to reports received, by prolonged and intense pressure from the local authorities”, without elaborating.

“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated,” the statement has said, adding that the Vatican was awaiting a communication on the matter from the Chinese authorities.

The report noted that the 2018 deal was renewed despite tensions over the arrest of retired cardinal Joseph Zen, one of the most senior Catholic cardinals in Asia, by authorities in Hong Kong in May.

The 90-year-old cardinal, a strong critic of the secretive agreement, was among six dissidents convicted on Nov 25 over their running of a multi-million-dollar defence fund for arrested anti-government protesters.

They were arrested under sweeping national security legislation that Beijing imposed in 2020, a year after the outbreak of huge and often violent protests, the report said.

Only six new bishops have been appointed since the deal was struck, which its opponents say proves it is not producing the desired effects. They also point to increasing restrictions on religious freedoms in China for Christians and other minorities, noted the channelnewsasia.com Nov 26.

nevertheless, when the deal was last renewed, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, its chief architect, said that while the achievements since 2018 “may seem small,” in the context of a conflicted history, they were “important steps toward the progressive healing of the wounds inflicted” on the Chinese Church.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Oct 1949, and since the 1950s, there have been two Catholic churches in China – one that answers to Beijing, and an “underground” congregation that remains loyal to Rome, with the latter being subjected to relentless persecution. The deal was a bid to ease this longstanding divide across mainland China.

AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency, has said, for example, that Peng was secretly, and legitimately, ordained a bishop with papal approval in 2014, four years before the accord, and had spent six months under arrest at the time.

But now, the government-approved Catholic association said Peng swore an oath at the installation ceremony to “guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society” and contribute to the “dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation,” noted the catholicnewsagency.com Nov26.

It said the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association publicized on its official website that Peng’s installation ceremony occurred with “the consent of the Jiangxi Provincial Catholic Educational Affairs Committee and the approval of the Chinese Catholic bishops’ conference.”

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