China to Install Bishop Without Papal Approval
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, November 29, 2006; Page A19
BEIJING, Nov. 28 -- China's state-sanctioned Catholic church said Tuesday that it plans to ordain another bishop without approval from the pope, despite renewed diplomatic efforts to end long-standing hostility between China and the Vatican.
The ascension of Wang Renlei, vicar general of Xuzhou diocese in southern China, will mark the third time in seven months that a bishop has been installed by the government's Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association without Vatican approval. According to the association, he will be consecrated Thursday in a ceremony presided over by several bishops loyal to the government-sanctioned church.
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Liu Bainian, the association's deputy chairman, said that the imminent retirement of Xuzhou's present bishop, Qian Yurong, 94, made choosing a replacement urgent and that there was no time to go through the procedure for Vatican approval. "I believe Rome will understand what we did," he said in a telephone interview.
But Wang's ordination appeared likely to complicate already difficult efforts underway by Vatican and Chinese diplomats to restart a dialogue designed to restore relations after a long history of enmity that began almost as soon as the Communist Party took power in 1949.
The dialogue appeared to be heading for success earlier this year after the Vatican let it be known it was willing to break relations with Taiwan as part of an overall agreement on church-state relations with China. That was seen as a major concession by Pope Benedict XVI, leading to predictions that relations would be restored soon.
Discord remained on the nomination of bishops for the approximately 10 million Catholics in China, about a third of whom recognize the association's authority. But church authorities and academics close to the Chinese government said the remaining problems could be overcome with relative ease as soon as a political decision was made by the Chinese government.
The optimism flowed from a growing practice under which the state-sanctioned association was generally naming bishops already quietly vetted by the Vatican, according to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong, the senior Roman Catholic cleric in China. In addition, Chinese authorities have displayed increasing flexibility as Catholic worshipers and their priests have frequently moved among sanctioned and unsanctioned churches.
But last spring's ordinations of the two other bishops -- Joseph Ma Yinglin in Yunnan province and Liu Xinhong in Anhui province -- disrupted the trend toward accommodation. The Vatican condemned the ordinations as illicit and in a statement qualified them as "a grave wound to the unity of the church" that caused "profound displeasure" to Pope Benedict.
The diplomatic contacts stalled and hopes for a swift resumption of relations were dashed. More recently, however, diplomats had renewed their meetings in a fresh attempt at dialogue -- an attempt that appeared to be threatened anew with Wang's ordination.
The Rev. Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman in Rome, said the Holy See would have no comment until the ordination took place. But the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, director of AsiaNews, a service reporting on Middle Eastern and Asian affairs from the Vatican's point of view, said the Holy See was surprised and saddened by news of the upcoming ordination.
He said a Vatican delegation that visited Beijing in June came away with the impression that President Hu Jintao's government was eager to put the negotiations back on track. But the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, he suggested, appeared intent on building up a "hard core" of bishops loyal to the association instead of to the pope.
Special correspondent Sarah Delaney in Rome contributed to this report.