Another Chinese bishop, but one with papal consent

SHENYANG, China Another Catholic bishop was consecrated in China on Sunday, in a ceremony approved by the Vatican yet unlikely to assuage the deepening rift between the Chinese government and Rome.

The ordination of a new auxiliary bishop in this industrial city came three days after Pope Benedict XVI assailed China for consecrating two bishops in the past eight days without approval from the Vatican.

On Sunday, China responded by describing Benedict’s criticism as “unfounded” and defending the consecrations as within the purview of the government.

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“The Chinese government is always sincere and has made unremitting efforts in improving its ties with the Vatican,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, according to state media.

A day earlier, an official with China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs had said that Benedict’s rebuke “makes no sense.”

The controversy has deeply concerned Catholics who had hoped that earlier warming signals between the two sides might mean that reconciliation between Beijing and the Vatican could be drawing closer.

Diplomatic ties were broken 55 years ago and Benedict has made normalization of the relationship a priority.

But the issue of appointing bishops has become a major stumbling block in making any progress toward reconciliation.

For several years, a tacit understanding has existed between the Vatican and Beijing under which candidates for becoming bishops have been vetted by both sides. At least five bishops have been approved since 2004 with such dual consent.

The consecration on Sunday of Pei Junmin, 36, a priest trained in Philadelphia, was a byproduct of that system and clearly enjoyed the support of parishioners here.

A huge crowd overwhelmed the cathedral and priests from the United States and other foreign guests were in attendance. During the ceremony, part of the decree from the pope approving the consecration was read in Latin.

The timing of the ceremony was striking, given the unexpected consecrations. On April 30, a new bishop was installed in the southwestern city of Kunming without papal approval. A similar ceremony occurred last Wednesday in Anhui Province.

Liu Bainian, the secretary general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that the decision to proceed with the Shenyang ceremony had been made last month by the Liaoning diocese.

Some reports have indicated that China may be planning to install as many as 20 more bishops, but Liu said he did not know when or where the next bishop would be consecrated.

“We do not know at the moment,” he said. “Each diocese can consecrate its bishop when it thinks that the conditions are right for it.”

Chinese officials have consistently maintained that Catholic bishops are chosen through democratic means at the local level – although they also describe 100 percent support for candidates backed by the state, a common claim in Communist countries.

Father Benoit Vermander, an expert on Chinese-Vatican relations at the Ricci Institute, a Jesuit-led organization in Taipei, said the recent twists and turns in Chinese policy were indicative of some disunity in Chinese policy making.

“It’s still hard to speak about one policy in Beijing,” he said. “It is a fragmented policy. Different people are doing different things.”

Jim Yardley reported from Shenyang and Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong.

SHENYANG, China Another Catholic bishop was consecrated in China on Sunday, in a ceremony approved by the Vatican yet unlikely to assuage the deepening rift between the Chinese government and Rome.

The ordination of a new auxiliary bishop in this industrial city came three days after Pope Benedict XVI assailed China for consecrating two bishops in the past eight days without approval from the Vatican.

On Sunday, China responded by describing Benedict’s criticism as “unfounded” and defending the consecrations as within the purview of the government.

“The Chinese government is always sincere and has made unremitting efforts in improving its ties with the Vatican,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, according to state media.

A day earlier, an official with China’s State Administration of Religious Affairs had said that Benedict’s rebuke “makes no sense.”

The controversy has deeply concerned Catholics who had hoped that earlier warming signals between the two sides might mean that reconciliation between Beijing and the Vatican could be drawing closer.

Diplomatic ties were broken 55 years ago and Benedict has made normalization of the relationship a priority.

But the issue of appointing bishops has become a major stumbling block in making any progress toward reconciliation.

For several years, a tacit understanding has existed between the Vatican and Beijing under which candidates for becoming bishops have been vetted by both sides. At least five bishops have been approved since 2004 with such dual consent.

The consecration on Sunday of Pei Junmin, 36, a priest trained in Philadelphia, was a byproduct of that system and clearly enjoyed the support of parishioners here.

A huge crowd overwhelmed the cathedral and priests from the United States and other foreign guests were in attendance. During the ceremony, part of the decree from the pope approving the consecration was read in Latin.

The timing of the ceremony was striking, given the unexpected consecrations. On April 30, a new bishop was installed in the southwestern city of Kunming without papal approval. A similar ceremony occurred last Wednesday in Anhui Province.

Liu Bainian, the secretary general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said in a telephone interview on Sunday that the decision to proceed with the Shenyang ceremony had been made last month by the Liaoning diocese.

Some reports have indicated that China may be planning to install as many as 20 more bishops, but Liu said he did not know when or where the next bishop would be consecrated.

“We do not know at the moment,” he said. “Each diocese can consecrate its bishop when it thinks that the conditions are right for it.”

Chinese officials have consistently maintained that Catholic bishops are chosen through democratic means at the local level – although they also describe 100 percent support for candidates backed by the state, a common claim in Communist countries.

Father Benoit Vermander, an expert on Chinese-Vatican relations at the Ricci Institute, a Jesuit-led organization in Taipei, said the recent twists and turns in Chinese policy were indicative of some disunity in Chinese policy making.

“It’s still hard to speak about one policy in Beijing,” he said. “It is a fragmented policy. Different people are doing different things.”

Jim Yardley reported from Shenyang and Keith Bradsher reported from Hong Kong.

Source

(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The New York Times, via the International Herald Tribune, USA
May 8, 2006
Jim Yardley and Keith Bradsher, The New York Times
www.iht.com
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 8, 2006.
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