BEIJING, China – A second bishop from China’s underground Catholic church is stepping aside and is being replaced by a government-backed clergyman, state-run media reported, amid a thaw in relations between Beijing and the Holy See.
There are an estimated 10 million Catholics in China, divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party, and the unofficial church loyal to the Vatican.
An agreement struck in September on the appointment of bishops has paved the way for a rapprochement between China and the Vatican, who cut off diplomatic ties in 1951.
Zhuang Jianjian, bishop of the Shantou diocese in southern China will retire and be replaced by Huang Bingzhang, deputy chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Global Times reported.
The Vatican-issued mandate was given to Huang last week by a delegation from the Holy See that met several Chinese bishops, the state-linked paper reported.
“The mission now is to unite Catholics in the diocese and reduce divergence so as to achieve the common goal of better serving church members,” Huang told the Global Times.
“This doesn’t come as a surprise because Zhuang Jianjian is already 88, so he would have wanted to retire more than a decade ago,” said Anthony Lam, a Chinese Catholic church expert at Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Center.
According to canon laws that govern the Catholic church, bishops “are requested” to summit their resignation at the age of 75.
The Pope can either approve the resignation or request that they wait for a suitable successor to emerge, Lam said.
“The agreement between China and the Vatican has solved this problem because the 7 bishops previously excommunicated have been restored to the church, so Huang Bingzhang will be able to take up the position.”
Huang had been excommunicated in 2011 for being ordained as a bishop without papal approval.
This is a slightly different situation from that of fellow underground bishop Guo Xijin, who was last week asked to step aside in the eastern Fujian province to make way for government-approved clergy, Lam noted.
Guo instead will serve as “auxiliary bishop” – someone who assists and works alongside the diocesan bishop – while both the underground and official churches of the diocese will merge.
He was at the center of last week’s negotiations between China and the Vatican, which have been asking him to leave his post since 2017 to allow for talks aimed at ending their decades-old spat.
Separately, the official church said it is facing a lack of bishops and called for “politically reliable” clergymen with “good ethnics”, the Global Times reported Wednesday, December 19.
Nearly half the 98 Chinese dioceses have no leaders, chairman of the China’s Bishops Conference Ma Yinglin told a seminar, according to the paper. – Rappler.com
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