Father Joseph Zhang Yinlin will be ordained Bishop of Anyang, Henan Province, on August 4, becoming the first Chinese bishop ordained publicly in three years and the first after the Vatican and China reopened dialogue in June 2014.
The last public ordination in China was on July 7, 2012, when Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was installed as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. Bishop Ma shocked the Chinese authorities by immediately handing in his resignation from the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in allegiance to Rome, and remains under house arrest in Sheshan, a seminary in Shanghai.
The Communist government of Shanghai reacted by mandating that Catholic priests and nuns of the diocese undergo “reeducation” classes on the central theme of the National Congress of the Communist Party.
China’s Catholic Church has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the state-approved body going by the name of the Patriotic Catholic Association. A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, noting that the group had issued a proclamation saying the church “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”
In 1988, Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Catholics in China with an open letter, in which he praised their faithfulness, encouraged their perseverance, and laid out new guidelines for the life of the Church in China.
The 44-year-old Father Zhang will be the first Chinese bishop ordained publicly since the election of Pope Francis. The ordination, which will take place with papal approval, initially was scheduled for July 29, but the diocese decided to postpone the date to August 4, to coincide with the feast of St. John Marie Vianney, the patron saint of priests.
“We invited several bishops, but we cannot confirm who will attend and who will preside over the ordination,” said Father Zhang. The presence of an illegitimate bishop not recognized by the Vatican is a way for the Communist Party to assert its control over the Church. At least three bishops are required to be present for an episcopal ordination and, in the case of China, at least one of the bishops present must be approved by the Vatican.
Earlier this year, Beijing announced its intention to ordain Catholic bishops in 2015 without the Pope’s approval, but so far, this has not happened.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.