The Chinese government has suspended a Catholic bishop who resigned from the government-run Catholic association, leading the Vatican's spokesman to describe the Holy See as deeply concerned.
The controversy comes after the government-run Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church of China – which is not recognized by the Vatican – revoked auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin’s appointment as coadjutor bishop of Shanghai.
Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican's position was “authoritatively expressed” in a recent article by Cardinal Fernando Filoni in Tripod, a quarterly published by the Diocese of Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Study Centre.
The cardinal criticized the segregation and detention of some bishops and priests, saying this happened in the case of Bishop Ma.
Cardinal Filoni said the bishop had declared his intention to “dedicate himself full-time to the pastoral ministry, laying aside offices that, among other things, are not even within the competence of a pastor.”
Bishop Ma was the first bishop to quit the government-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association publicly. He announced his decision at his Vatican-approved ordination July 7.
“With this ordination, I will be devoting my heart and soul to the episcopal ministry and to evangelism. Hence, there are some positions that will be inconvenient for me to hold on to,” the bishop said, according to Xinhua news agency.
“From today's ordination onwards, I will no longer be a member of the CPA.”
Since his announcement, he has been in “retreat” at the Sheshan Regional Seminary in a suburb outside of Shanghai, UCA News reports.
The diocese has suspended him from ministry and from his position parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Tangmuqiao. However, he can still meet with people and update his blog on occasion.
He is reportedly forbidden from making public appearances for the next two years.
The 44-year-old bishop had announced his resignation from the association in front of several state officials before a congregation of about 1,000 people in Shanghai's St. Ignatius Cathedral.
UCA News says the communist government sees Bishop Ma’s ordination as “one of the most serious incidents” in the Catholic Church in China in the three decades since religious activities were again permitted.
Fr. Lombardi said the Vatican has no information “other than what has appeared in the media.”
In his article, Cardinal Filoni – who serves as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples – stressed the need for religious freedom.
“Control over people and institutions has intensified, and recourse is had more readily to indoctrination sessions and pressure,” the cardinal said.
“In the absence of freedom of religion or in the presence of strong limitations, does it not pertain to the whole Church to defend the legitimate rights of Chinese faithful, and primarily to the Holy See to give voice to those who have none?”