Pope Francis recognizes Chinese bishops ordained without papal approval

A priest celebrates Mass in 2012 in a makeshift chapel in a village near Beijing. For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced Sept. 22. (CNS photo/Reuters)

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.

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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.”

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Tim Donovan
2 months 3 weeks ago

I think it's a hopeful sign that Pope Francis has recognized all Chinese bishops, including those in the Catholic Patriotic Association. I believe that with time and considerable effort on the part of the Pope and Vatican officials that both relations between the Chinese government and the Holy See will improve, so that there can be full unity between both "underground" and Patriotic Association Catholics. However, it is still problematic that China doesn't recognize underground Catholics who recognize the authority of the pope; only Catholics who are controlled by the Chinese government, those of the Patriotic Association, are recognized. Further, unless the government has reversed its practices, for some time Catholic and I believe other Christian Church members have experienced serious discrimination. Churches have been defaced (for example, with crosses placed on church buildings removed) and closed in some cases. Also, Catholic children aren't permitted to attend Mass, not do I believe that children can legally receive religious instruction. Finally, China persecuted members of other faiths as well. According to the Washington Post (editorial, week of September 17, 2017), a human rights group estimates that about 1 million people are forcibly confined to "reeducation camps," and are forced to recite patriotic slogans in exchange for food. The. Post noted that the primary targets of this persecution are a minority ethnic group who are mostly Muslims. Other acts of serious discrimination include forcing the Muslims to not speak their native language, but a Chinese dialect, and not being permitted to give Muslim greetings, or I believe a ban on wearing Muslim dress. Also, I know that Muslims, who like Catholics are "loyal" to the Pope (a foreign leader of a religion foreign to China) are "loyal" to a religion, , Islam, that's foreign to China. Thus, the practice of Islam is also very restricted. The mistreatment of Muslims by the Chinese government makes me not very confident that, ultimately, the Chinese government will grant legal recognition to Catholics who accept the authority of the Pope, but will seek to control the Church as much as possible.

Crystal Watson
2 months 3 weeks ago

How are bishops chosen by the Chinese government authentic but bishops chosen by the Church of England not?

Arthur Sullivan
2 months 3 weeks ago

For one thing, most Anglicans don't care. They seem happy to keep their distance with the sex scandals and all that.

Crystal Watson
2 months 3 weeks ago

.

Crystal Watson
2 months 3 weeks ago

Vatican II, Christus Dominus, #20 ... "for the purpose of duly protecting the freedom of the Church and of promoting more conveniently and efficiently the welfare of the faithful, this holy council desires that in future no more rights or privileges of election, nomination, presentation, or designation for the office of bishop be granted to civil authorities ..." ... http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/document…

Carlos Orozco
2 months 3 weeks ago

Crystal clear!

Phillip Stone
2 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you for the reference, Crystal.
If we read it, "20", with the mind of a lawyer or a fundamentalist Thomist, we can assure ourselves that by doing it himself in this way, the current Pope is the one designating them as holding the office de jure as the Pope is empowered to do and that their de facto episcopal identity begins with the decree just uttered.

How many episcopal things have these men done before now, and what is the status of the people so treated - the baptised are probably baptised but what about the confirmed and wed and ordained?

Carlos Orozco
2 months 3 weeks ago

Faithful Chinese bishops opposed the move. Are we to expect that if push comes to shove the newly recognized bishops will remain loyal to the One, True Church instead of the Communist Chinese government?

Another blunder by Pope Francis.

Phillip Stone
2 months 3 weeks ago

I am stunned.
How do we know if any, each or all of the Communist appointed men are even baptised?
Will any of them be allowed to elect the next leader in Rome when he dies or resigns?
What happens to the half who in the face of death, persecution and imprisonment remained loyal and steadfast to the one, holy, universal and APOSTOLIC communion AND are not accepted by the Chinese oligarchs?

OR

will all Pentecostal leaders of big congregations now be accepted as successors to the apostles as well.
And Anglican, Episcopalian and Orthodox bishops for that matter: the only bunch I can see not automatically included will be those who have female bishops - can the current incumbent swallow even that?

Crystal Watson
2 months 3 weeks ago

When B16 was trying to reconcile with the SSPX, Thomas Reese SJ wrote that the reason why was the fear that the SSPX would ordain more bishops, growing another competing version of the Catholic church .. https://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/posts/benedict-undermining-his-own… .. The problem is even greater with the Chinese Catholic church. It's about keeping nominal control over a co-opted branch of the church. Is it worth it?

Vince Killoran
2 months 2 weeks ago

So, this is okay, but lay oversight of parish and diocesan administration and lay commissions weighing in on appointments of bishops is not?!

Arthur Sullivan
2 months 2 weeks ago

Excellent point. I guess we just need to turn communist.

George Obregon
2 months 2 weeks ago

The Pope calls for solidarity with evil. For shame.
/Ethicists, pay attention.

James Haraldson
2 months 2 weeks ago

Yes, Francis wants to pursue the Gospel of Francis: Atheism is superior to faith, moral relativism is really what Jesus had in mind, and aborted children make a delicious soup.

George Obregon
2 months 2 weeks ago

Hear! Hear!

Dionys Murphy
2 months 2 weeks ago

You SSPX heretics are hilarious.

Henry George
2 months 1 week ago

Is it clear that SSPX members are heretical ?
Or is it just someway they are schismatic ?

Jeffrey More
2 months 2 weeks ago

"SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China's Catholic Church reaffirmed its loyalty to the country's ruling Communist Party on Sunday, while welcoming a landmark deal struck with the Vatican on appointing new bishops. . . .
The Catholic Church in China said it would 'persevere to walk a path suited to a socialist society, under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.'"
Not surprisingly, the ChiComs are already crowing about their success in rolling the oldest continually existing institution in the Western world. The Vatican has already acknowledged that this agreement sucks, but Cardinal Parolin evidently studied diplomacy at the same school John Kerry went to - the school that teaches that a lousy agreement is better than no agreement. The good news, I suppose, is that the three dozen or so Chinese bishops who remained loyal to the true Church, but have been betrayed by this agreement, can, if conditions for them now become untenable, always come to Rome and live in the apostolic palace that Pope Bergoglio is not using while he lives in ostentatious humility at the Vatican Motel Six.

Carlos Orozco
2 months 2 weeks ago

Thanks, Jeffrey. Your post sums up the cowardly and treasonous position of the Chinese "Patriotic" Church. After reading their own statement, I no longer doubt that this agreement is bad for The (real) Church.

What could possibly go wrong after the Patriotic Church in China pledges loyalty to the glorious leadership of Xi Jinping, instead of the Pope, IMMEDIATELY AFTER the deal is announced? Some study and meditation on similar episodes in Church history (cismatic chuches loyal to the French Revolution or the Revolutionary goverment in Mexico during the Cristero war, to name a couple of examples) would have prevented a lot of migraines in the future, that now seem unavoidable.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

The depressing thing is that none of this matters, from Vatican II documents to politics. The pope can ignore criticism just as he has been ignoring those allegations of him covering up sex abuse. He's unaccountable.

Kevin Murphy
2 months 2 weeks ago

Jesus weeps. Francis signs the Church over to the Communists but can't clarify Amoris Laetitia. This papacy is killing the Church.

Vincent Gaglione
2 months 2 weeks ago

A “pure” Church, whether politically, socially, or culturally, seems to be the “de rigeur” call of the critics. No “field hospital” for them, none of the “Mash” type of behaviors and incidents should ever occur in their “pure” world.

The division of the Catholic Church in China has been an obstacle to Catholic evangelization. The solution may not be pretty, some of the players in China may not be pure of heart, but the Church has an obligation to repair itself in good Faith and that’s what Francis has done, as so many of his predecessors tried to do. If some are not acting in good Faith, then they will pay the moral price at the Last Judgment.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

But the church isn't "repairing itself" in China. The church is giving the right to choose bishops to a civil government, one whose leader has just made himself leader for life, and which has no interest in protecting or promoting authentic Christianity, just in controlling its population.

Crystal Watson
2 months 2 weeks ago

For some context, when China took over Tibet, Tibet's Buddhist religious leader, the Dalai Lama, went into exile. China then took control of the succession of the leadership of Tibetan Buddhism ... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gedhun_Choekyi_Nyima ... The Chinese government has no respect for the autonomy of any religion.

Sam Zeng
2 months 1 week ago

Patriotic Catholic Church?
Patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel!

Will Niermeyer
2 months 1 week ago

As long as they were ordained by Bishops they are valid ordinations.

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
2 months 1 week ago

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 are serving humanity with dedication and distinction.

K Byrne
2 months 1 week ago

Appeasement never works. Where's your spine? Please pray to St. JPII -- he knew how to successfully deal with communist totalitarian regimes. This "deal" threw the faithful Chinese underground to the PRC Goon Squads. Sell-out!

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