Bishop’s exit tests Vatican relations
The surprise resignation of a Catholic auxiliary bishop from China’s state-sanctioned church over the weekend could renew tensions between Beijing and the Vatican over who should lead the nation’s estimated nine million Catholics.
A video that surfaced this week showed Bishop Ma Daqin, also known as Thaddeus Ma, telling his congregation Saturday that he was resigning from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the state-approved organization that Catholic clergy in mainland China are required to join.
Bishop Ma had been ordained as a bishop that same day by the association. He had also won approval from Catholic leaders in the Vatican. His resignation means a cleric approved by the Vatican likely won’t be allowed to practice in China.
“After you take up the ministry and become auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, there’s a lot going on,” Bishop Ma told the congregation, explaining his decision, according to the video of the service, which was posted online. “Heart and mind should be completely devoted to ministering and spreading the Good Word. Some posts are not convenient to continue to hold. So, from this day, this time of holy celebration, it is no longer convenient for me to continue to be a member of the Patriotic Association.”
The congregation applauded in response to the speech.
Beijing and the Vatican have long been at loggerheads over the naming of church leaders in China. Chinese officials say leaders must be approved in a process ultimately controlled by the Communist Party, but the church excommunicates bishops who are ordained without Vatican approval.
“We are happy that somebody has started to say no, because we cannot always say yes, and [the Chinese government] is really setting up an independent church,” said Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong.
In recent years, with church leaders inside and outside China eager to appoint new leaders to minister to the nation’s growing number of Catholics, the Vatican and the Chinese association have often independently approved the same person.
Bishop Ma was one such candidate. Last week, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs urged the Vatican not to excommunicate Bishop Ma and another candidate, Yue Fusheng, when they were scheduled to be ordained Saturday.
The video of Bishop Ma’s resignation was confirmed by Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre, an affiliate of Hong Kong’s diocese that oversees mainland China matters for the Church. “The government would like to control the church, if they had any legal basis,” he said.
“Continuing the practice of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, ordaining elected bishops is necessary to spread the word of Catholicism in China, as there have been no bishops in several of the country’s dioceses for some time,” said a government representative, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
In a statement Tuesday, the Vatican welcomed Bishop Ma’s ordination, but said Mr. Yue was ordained illicitly, and received the traditional penalty, which is excommunication. “The presence of a bishop who is not in communion with the Holy Father was inappropriate and shows a lack of consideration for a lawful episcopal ordination,” it said. [More]