In Deal with Chinese Communists, Vatican Asks Legitimate Bishops to Step Aside for Illegitimate Ones

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A disturbing new report indicates that the Vatican cut a deal with the Chinese Communist Party and subsequently asked legitimate bishops faithful to Rome to “step aside” to be substituted by members of the collaborating Patriotic Association.

Writing for Asia News, the official outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, John Baptist Lin stated that an unnamed “foreign prelate” from the Vatican had met with two Chinese bishops, Pietro Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou and Giuseppe Guo Xijin late last year and requested that the two yield their dioceses to illegitimate bishops, who had previously been excommunicated by Rome.

In a letter dated October 26, 2017, the Vatican ordered eighty-year-old Bishop Zhuang to resign and leave his post to the illicit bishop Giuseppe Huang Bingzhang, whom the Holy See allegedly plans to rehabilitate. Zhuang had been secretly ordained in 2006 with Vatican approval but was never recognized by the communist authorities. An anonymous ecclesial source in Shantou declared that Bishop Zhuang “refused to obey and agreed instead to ‘carry the cross’ for disobeying.”

In late December, Bishop Zhuang was taken from his diocese in the south and brought under guard to Beijing to meet with senior representatives of the central government and a delegation from the Vatican.

During his stay in Beijing, the elderly bishop was taken to the headquarters of the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops, where he met with government-approved bishops Ma Yinglin, Shen Bin and Guo Jincai, who are the president, vice-president and general secretary of the Council of Bishops. Neither the Patriotic Association nor the Council of Bishops is recognized by the Holy See and bishops Ma and Guo are both illicit and currently not reconciled with the Vatican.

On December 21, Bishop Zhuang was taken to a hotel where he met three representatives of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, followed by a meeting with “a foreign bishop and three foreign priests of the Vatican,” Asia News reports. The ecclesial source for the news said he believes that the prelate in question was Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, in charge of negotiations between China and the Holy See since they resumed official dialogue in 2014.

Zhuang’s replacement, Bishop Giuseppe Huang Bingzhang, has been a member of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament, for a number of years. Huang was officially excommunicated by the Holy See in 2011, when he accepted episcopal ordination without a papal mandate.

Similarly, underground Bishop Giuseppe Guo Xijin of Mindong received instructions from the Vatican last October to cede his post to the illicit bishop Vincenzo Zhan Silu and to take up the role of his auxiliary.

After meeting with Bishop Zhuang in Beijing last December, the Vatican delegation went south to the province of Fujian in order to meet with Bishop Zhan, one of seven illicit bishops waiting for Vatican recognition and the man slated to replace Bishop Guo as the new bishop of Mindong.

Last December 14 the Patriotic Association and the Council of Bishops issued a five-year plan aimed at “sinicizing” the Catholic Church. The plan demands that religions conform to the leadership of the Communist Party.

Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, Beijing has sought greater control over the Catholic Church in China, insisting that bishops be named by the local Chinese Catholic community under the auspices of the Communist party. It has also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Pope in ecclesiastical decisions, claiming that as head of a foreign state, the Pope has no right to interfere in local matters.

The Catholic Church in China has been split into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the Patriotic Catholic Association, under the immediate control of the Communist party.

A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, since the association “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”

According to an article by Cardinal John Tong, published in February 2017, the nomination of bishops is the key problem of the closed-door negotiations between China and the Vatican.

Last year, China’s most outspoken Catholic Cardinal sharply criticized the Vatican’s dealings with China’s Communist Party that would cede some Church decision-making to the atheist government.

“You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost’, then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ,” said Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former Bishop of Hong Kong and China’s highest ranking Catholic cleric.

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