(Beijing—Jan. 24, 2018) In an ongoing attempt to thaw previously icy relations between the Chinese government and the Catholic church, a Vatican delegation ordered two underground bishops to retire in favor of government-appointed church leaders.
According to Asia News, Vatican-recognized Bishop Peter Zhuang received a letter asking him to step aside, paving the way for controversial, government-appointed Bishop Huang Bingzhang. Afterwards, Zhuang met with Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli in Beijing, who told him he would be able to appoint three priests from which Huang could choose his vicar general if he agreed to retire, Asia News said.
Zhuang believes that appointing such candidates would be useless, since Huang could demote them at any time.
As his replacement, Huang remains a highly controversial figure. Ordained apart from the Vatican’s approval, The Holy See excommunicated him in 2011, and his status as a member of China’s ruling body, the National People’s Congress, means he has strong ties to the government, which often persecutes Christians, especially those outside of ‘official’ churches.
China often ordains bishops the Vatican refuses to approve, which led to tensions between the officially atheistic nation and the religious Italian city-state. Recently, the Vatican has moved to mend this relationship but this mending may come at the cost of ignoring China’s numerous human rights and religious freedom abuses—many of them inflicted upon Christians—in the process.
The Catholic Herald said that after the delegation moved on to Fujian, they asked Bishop Joseph Guo to yield his position over an unregistered church to Communist Party-approved Bishop Vincent Zhan, under whom he will then serve.
Despite their disappointment, local Catholics said they feel powerless to oppose the Vatican.
The demand comes after authorities kidnapped Guo last year after making him visit the Fu’an religious affairs bureau.
“It’s a shame to Vatican politicians, who put their political interests above the church’s by kowtowing to Communist Beijing,” said ChinaAid President Bob Fu. “This action constitutes a true betrayal both to Christian principles and to the ongoing persecuted faithful [Christians] in China. I hope Pope Francis can intervene and correct the course before the damage is too great to remedy.”
ChinaAid exposes abuses, such as those suffered by Bishops Peter Zhuang and Joseph Guo, in order to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians and promote religious freedom, human rights, and rule of law.