In a uniquely straightforward statement, the Vatican protested a move by the “official church” in China, changing the see of a bishop appointed in 2014 to a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.
As Aleteia reported Friday, John Peng Weizhao, clandestinely appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 for the Diocese of Yujiang, has joined the “official” bodies of the Chinese church and was recognized in a ceremony on Thursday as the “auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi.” The ceremony took place in Nanchang and around 200 people attended. It was presided over by local Bishop Li Suguang, who is also vice president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a body not recognized by the Holy See.
After his episcopal ordinating some eight year ago, the 56-year-old bishop was detained for six months by the Chinese authorities.
According to AsiaNews, the “embarrassing” oath which the bishop had to take indicates that the decision was forced.
The statement November 26 from the Holy See said:
It was with surprise and regret that the Holy See learned of the news of the “installation ceremony” that took place on 24 November in Nanchang, of H.E. Bishop Giovanni Peng Weizhao, Bishop of Yujiang (Jiangxi Province), as “Auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi”, a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.
Such an event, in fact, has not taken place in conformity with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican parties and the Chinese parties and what has been stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops of 22 September 2018.
In addition, the civil recognition of Bishop Peng was preceded, according to reports received, by prolonged and intense pressure by the local Authorities.
The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, is awaiting the appropriate communication about the matter from the Authorities, and reaffirms its complete willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all of the matters of common interest.
[This is a working translation from Vatican News]
What is the official church?
In China, there is the government-approved “patriotic” church and the “underground” Church, which stresses its communion with the Pope. In some ways, there is not a clear line between the two groups, as many of those in the official church secretly maintain their communion with Rome.
Since 2018, the Vatican and China have entered into an agreement, the text of which has never been released. However, the agreement is understood to stipulate that episcopal ordinations in China should be carried out with papal approval, to halt the problem of illicit bishop ordinations.
The agreement was renewed for another two-year term last month. However, according to AsiaNews, there have not been any episcopal ordinations in China since September 8, 2021, despite a number of vacant sees.
Pope Francis’ take
While many voices criticize the Vatican’s agreement as a disservice to Chinese Catholics who have maintained their fidelity to Rome amid harsh persecution, the Pope has spoken about the need for patience: “To understand China takes a century, and we do not live for a century,” he said in September, returning from Kazakhstan. “[…] There are different cultures within China, it is a giant, and understanding China is an enormous thing. But you do not have to lose patience, it takes a lot, but we have to go with dialogue…”
In an interview with Reuters in July, he characterized the deal as trying to make inroads in a difficult situation. “When you face a blocked situation, you have to find the possible way, not the ideal way, out of it,” Francis said.