The proposed ordination of a Chinese bishop without Vatican approval has been postponed at the last minute. The decision comes only two days before the ordination was scheduled to take place.
“Reports from China have just come through saying that the ordination of Father Shen Guoan as Bishop of Hankou has been postponed to an ‘unspecified date,’” John Pontifex of Aid to the Church in Need told CNA on June 7.
“If these reports are true – and we have no reason to doubt them – it will come as a major relief to the Vatican.”
The ordination of Fr. Guoan, 50, was set to take place at St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hankou on Thursday, June 9. Chinese government authorities were planning on making him a bishop despite having no approval from the Vatican and protests being raised by local Catholics. It’s even been suggested that Fr. Guoan himself was strongly opposed to the idea.
The backdrop to today’s events is the continuing attempt by China’s communist regime to control all aspects of Chinese life, including the Catholic Church. The Chinese government created and continues to run the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.
Diplomatic progress seemed to have been made in recent years, with some bishops receiving the approval of the Pope. But on Nov. 20, 2010 Chinese officials proceeded with the ordination of Fr. Joseph Guo Jincai as Bishop of Chendge, without approval from the Pope. The consecration of Bishop Jincai earned a sharp rebuke from the Vatican and was seen as a serious setback.
Thus, the ordination of Fr. Guoan threatened to deal another major setback to Vatican-Chinese relations.
“It is about time the Chinese authorities recognized that the right to appoint bishops is the preserve of the Pope and that this should not be seen as undue interference in internal Church affairs,” says Pontifex.
“Barely three weeks ago, the Pope renewed calls for Chinese clergy to stay loyal to Rome and not become ‘ensnared by the false flattery of opportunism,’” Pontifex adds.
The stakes are high due to the fact that the continuing stand-off between the Vatican and the Chinese regime sees many Catholic dioceses now lying vacant without a bishop.
“We know there are a lot of episcopal ordinations coming up as one generation of bishops reaches retirement and hence this decision to postpone could prove crucial, setting the precedent for other appointments,” observes Pontifex.
It’s estimated there are some 6 million Catholics in China, although millions more are worshiping outside the official state-controlled church.