.- Relations between the Catholic Church and the government of China may be set back even further as the communist country announced this week that it had appointed and will attempt the ordination of yet another bishop for its Chinese Patriotic Catholic church. The Holy See and Chinese government had been working to normalize relations in recent months.
Liu Bainian, deputy chairman of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, told The Associated Press that Rev. Wang Renlei had been appointed as a bishop in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, in eastern China. Wang is currently vicar-general of the Xuzhou diocese.
"Because China and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations, China has elected its own bishops over many years," Liu said.
"We cannot wait until China and the Vatican establish relations to select a bishop," he said.
Various sources have told UCA News that Fr. Renlei will likely receive episcopal ordination on the feast day of St. Andrew at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Xuzhou city, Jiangsu province, 675 kilometers south of Beijing.
It would be the third known ordination this year carried out by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association without approval of the Vatican.
The Chinese government has refused to accept the authority of the Catholic hierarchy or the Pope, who has the exclusive authority to appoint Catholic Bishops.
The New York Times spoke yesterday to a Vatican official familiar with past contacts between Beijing and the Vatican, who said the latest move to consecrate another bishop came as a surprise.
"We feel very depressed about this news," the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Vatican has not yet issued a formal response. "It seems like we have to go back to the beginning again."
In recent months the Vatican and Beijing had traded emissaries and conducted quiet negotiations in an attempt to open China to religious freedom.
The Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, a China watcher who heads Asia News, told the Associated Press that the appointment was a "violent gesture against freedom of religion."
"It is a sign of the weakness of the Chinese government and tension in the Chinese society," he said in an e-mail.
However, a Church source close to the Vatican told UCA News it is hoped that the Nov. 30 ordination will not take place, because it would be a serious matter that would negatively affect dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See.
The ordination should be postponed in order to give a reasonable amount of time for the Holy See to undertake an investigation on the candidate, he said, adding that the Holy See heard about the election only on Nov. 21st.
If the ordination really does take place, the source said, the Vatican would have a serious reaction to it, though it is likely that this would be given only after Pope Benedict XVI returns from his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip to Turkey.
Chinese ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power. The Government allows “Catholic” worship in a state run church, though millions of Chinese practice their faith in “underground” Churches.
Restrictions on religious freedom in China are also an irritant in relations with Washington. A State Department report earlier this month ranked China along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan among "countries of particular concern" for denying religious openness.