.- Chinese government officials went ahead with their decision to appoint a new bishop for the government-controlled Catholic Church, without approval of the Vatican yesterday. Bishop Joseph Zhao Fengchang of Yanggu illicitly ordained Fr. Wang Renlei, 36, as Coadjutor Bishop of Xuzhou, at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral.
Four other bishops, some of them Vatican-approved, were also present. About 1,000 people attended the event.
Tensions between the Vatican and the Chinese government had been improving of late, as the Holy See made efforts to reunite the official Chinese Church with the “underground” Church in China and the worldwide Catholic Church. The Vatican’s authority over the appointment of bishops, however, remains a sticking point for the jealous communist regime in Beijing. Two other bishops had already been selected by the government-run Chinese church and ordained earlier this year without Vatican approval.
According to a report by UCA News, a government official said the government-run Chinese church did not contact the Vatican about the ordination since a proper channel for doing so does not exist. However, the church asked the Chinese government to pass the message to the Vatican about Fr. Wang’s consecration as bishop.
In the Roman Catholic Church, appointments to the episcopate are issued from the Pope himself, usually through a process which involves several Vatican offices.
According to a report in the New York Times, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong issued a statement, accusing Chinese authorities of having threatened and kidnapped mainland clergy who are loyal to Rome, to make them participate in the ceremony.
The Chinese official denied the claim that some bishops were forced to attend the ordination. He told UCA News that the newly consecrated bishop had invited the other bishops who attended the ceremony.
According to the New York Times, Cardinal Zen made a series of thinly veiled comments suggesting that the ordination was the work of China’s religious affairs officials, who administer the government-approved churches. He appealed in his statement for China’s leaders to intervene.
Cardinal Zen also confirmed for the Times rumors of the existence of a secret delegation from the Vatican to Beijing after the ordinations last spring. The cardinal said the Chinese government had invited the delegation and had promised that it would not conduct any more ordinations without the Vatican’s approval.
Yesterday’s unapproved ordination will likely impact diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican and may offset plans to move the papal nunciature from Taipei to Beijing.