The Vatican announced on Sept. 22 that Pope Francis “has decided to readmit to full ecclesial communion all the remaining ‘official’ bishops who were ordained in China in recent years without the pontifical mandate,” that is the pope’s approval. There were eight such bishops, three of whom were declared excommunicated during the pontificate of Benedict XVI. Although one of the eight died in 2017, Francis nevertheless included him among those reconciled.
The Vatican explained that Pope Francis took this decision “with a view to sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel in China.” The statement did not mention that China had insisted on this as a prerequisite for the signing of the provisional agreement. Nor did it say that before Francis took his decision, all these prelates had explicitly asked to be reconciled with the pope.
The eight bishops who are fully reconciled with the pope are: Bishops Joseph Guo Jincai, Joseph Huang Bingzhang, Paul Lei Shiyin, Joseph Liu Xinhong, Joseph Ma Yinglin, Joseph Yue Fusheng, Vincent Zhan Silu and Anthony Tu Shihua, O.F.M. Bishop Tu Shihua, who died on Jan. 4, 2017, had expressed the desire to be reconciled with the Apostolic See.
For the first time since 1957 (when Beijing began to ordain bishops without Rome’s approval), all the Catholic bishops in China today, around 100 in total, are in communion with the pope.
As a result of his decision, for the first time since 1957 (when Beijing began to ordain bishops without Rome’s approval), all the Catholic bishops in China today, around 100 in total, are in communion with the pope. This means that all 60 bishops officially recognized by the Chinese authorities are now united with the pope. And, as has always been the case, the more than 30 bishops of the underground church community are in communion with the pope but not recognized by Beijing. The situation of these underground bishops was not dealt with under the provisional agreement; it is hoped that this will be dealt with soon by the Joint Working Group established by China and the Holy See in 2014. The Vatican recognizes that it is essential to resolve this question if the underground and official communities are to be reconciled.
“Pope Francis hopes that, with these decisions, a new process may begin that will allow the wounds of the past to be overcome, leading to the full communion of all Chinese Catholics,” the Vatican said.
There are about 12 million Catholics in mainland China today, and it is estimated that they are more or less equally divided between the “officially recognized” church community and the “underground” church community. Beijing does not recognize the latter because the underground communities—bishops, priests, women religious and lay people—refuse to be part of the Patriotic Association that the Chinese authorities set up in 1957 to control the Catholic church in China.
The Vatican also issued a third note in which it said that Pope Francis has established a new diocese in China, the diocese of Chengde.
With a view to healing the divisions between the “official” and “underground” communities of the one Catholic church in China, the second Vatican statement concluded with these words: “The Catholic Community in China is called to live a more fraternal collaboration, in order to promote with renewed commitment the proclamation of the Gospel.”
It reminded all Chinese Catholics that “the Church exists to give witness to Jesus Christ and to the forgiving and salvific love of the Father.”
The Vatican also issued a third note in which it said that Pope Francis has established a new diocese in China, the diocese of Chengde. It is presumed that this decision was taken in accord with the Chinese authorities, though the statement does not mention this.
It explained the reason for this decision saying that the pope wished “to promote the pastoral care of the Lord’s flock and to attend with greater efficacy to its spiritual good.” It said the new diocese “will be suffragan to the See of Beijing, with the church of Jesus the Good Shepherd, situated in the Administrative Division of Shuangluan, “Chengde City,” as its Cathedral.” It said the new diocese is found in the province of Hebei and “its territory is defined by the current civil boundaries of ‘Chengde City’. It has a population of about 3.7 million inhabitants, of whom about 25,000 are Catholics, living in 12 parishes and served by 7 priests, a dozen religious women and some seminarians.
The Vatican this afternoon also released a statement by Cardinal Parolin on the signing of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China concerning the nomination of Bishops.
The Vatican this afternoon also released a statement by Cardinal Parolin on the signing of the Provisional Agreement.
He hailed the signing of the agreement as something “of great importance, especially for the life of the Church in China, for the dialogue between the Holy See and the Authorities of that country and also for the promotion of a horizon of peace in this present times in which we experience so many tensions at international level.”
He explained that “the objective of the Holy See” in signing “is a pastoral one; the Holy See intends just to create the condition, or to help to create the condition, of a greater freedom, autonomy and organization, in order that the Catholic Church can dedicate itself to the mission of announcing the Gospel and also to contribute to the well-being and to the spiritual and material prosperity and harmony of the country, of every person and of the world as a whole.”
Cardinal Parolin emphasized that “ today, for the first time all the Bishops in China are in communion with the Bishop of Rome, with the Successor of Peter. And Pope Francis, like his immediate Predecessors, looks with particular care to the Chinese People. What is required now is unity, is trust and a new impetus; to have good Pastors, recognized by the Successor of Peter—by the Pope—and by the legitimate civil Authorities.”
He said Pope Francis asks the bishops, priests, religious and faithful of the Catholic community in China to undertake the commitment “ to make concrete fraternal gestures of reconciliation among themselves, and so to overcome past misunderstandings, past tensions, even the recent ones.” In this way, he said, “ they can really contribute, and they will be able to perform the duty of the Church which is the announcement of the Gospel and, at the same time, to contribute to the growth, the spiritual and material growth, of their country and to peace and reconciliation in the world.”