ROME — The Vatican has registered its “surprise and regret” over China’s unilateral decision to demote and relocate a Catholic bishop without the approval of Pope Francis.
“The Holy See noted with surprise and regret the news of the ‘installation ceremony,’ which took place on 24 of this month in Nanchang, of John Peng Weizhao, Bishop of Yujiang (Jiangxi Province), as ‘Auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi,’ a diocese not recognized by the Holy See,” the Vatican said in a communiqué Saturday.
Bishop Peng Weizhao of the Chinese underground Church had been appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 and secretly ordained as bishop of Yujiang, for which he was held under house arrest for six months by the local government. His unapproved relocation as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Jiangxi effectively constitutes a demotion to a secondary role in a diocese not recognized by Rome.
The Vatican message goes on to note that the incident did not take place “in accordance with the spirit of dialogue” existing between the Vatican and Chinese authorities and with what was stipulated in the 2018 provisional agreement between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) on the naming of Bishops, which though secret, clearly requires papal approval for any episcopal appointment.
“Moreover, the civil recognition of Bishop Peng was preceded, according to reports, by long and heavy pressure from the local authorities,” it states.
As reported by AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the installation ceremony of Bishop Peng Weizhao was presided over by Bishop John Baptist Li Suguang, who is vice president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference, a body not recognized by the Holy See.
AsiaNews further suggested that Bishop Peng “probably came under tremendous pressure” to accept a new role as auxiliary bishop. He announced to his clergy on September 22 that he had resigned as bishop of Yujiang and accepted the government’s plan to integrate all the dioceses of Nanchang into one, the diocese of Jiangxi.
China Catholic, a “Catholic” website controlled by the CCP, reported that Bishop Peng has sworn to “adhere to the principle of independence and self-management of the Church, adhere to the direction of Sinicisation of Catholicism in our country, [and] actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society.”
Despite Vatican displeasure over the affair, Saturday’s communiqué ends by expressing an evident unwillingness to take a serious stand on the matter, expressed as the equivalent of “You’ve been naughty. Please don’t do this again.”
“The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated,” the communiqué declares, “awaits appropriate communications on the part of the Authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue respectful dialogue concerning all questions of common interest.”