Catholic World News News Feature

New Chinese Bishop Explicitly Ordained In Communion With Vatican May 10, 2000

ROME ( - A Chinese bishop was ordained for the Communist country's state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association on Sunday with the approval of Pope John Paul II, a significant step forward in relations between the Vatican and China.

Bishop Zhao Fengchang, 66, was ordained bishop of Yanggu and apostolic administrator of Linqing (Shandong) by Bishop Giuseppe Ma Xuesheng of Zhoucun, assisted by Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi and Bishop Wang Dianduo of Heze, in the presence of about 1,500 Catholics.

Before the Ordination Mass began, the Holy See's approval was publicly announced, which was not the first time the Vatican has given its stamp of approval for the ordination of an Association bishop. But it was the first time that the ordaining bishops were all in legitimate communion with the Holy See, at the Vatican's specific request.

The Communist Chinese government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which has eschewed any connection to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in illegal, underground churches, following only bishops appointed by the Pope. The two groups make up parallel hierarchies, although there is considerable overlap with priests, laymen, and even some bishops serving both groups.

Sunday's ordination was a marked departure from a January ordination for five bishops in which barely 200 people were present, there was no Vatican approval for the 5 candidates, and only one of the ordaining bishops was legitimately ordained himself.

The procedure adopted for the May 7 ordination was seen as a confirmation on the part of the Holy See and the Chinese Church of the need for explicit communion with Rome, to foster greater unity among all Chinese Catholic.

The new conditions for this ordination indicated a step away from the Patriotic Association (PA) whose ideal is the control of the Church and its submission to the Communist Party. In the months following the January ordination the PA was strongly criticized by the bishops and by the faithful for departing from Rome.

The government was also displeased with the PA: the January 6 ordinations created a wave of discontent among Catholics and criticism of the lack of religious freedom from the international community. Official Church sources in Beijing said this is why "a number of 'patriotic' ordinations, scheduled for the coming weeks, previously announced, have been cancelled." Sources in Shanghai said the government's "laissez faire" attitude is due to "social and economic tension in China: Beijing wants to avoid disputes with the Catholic Church and the international community."

Another element established by the recent ordination in Shandong is that the Vatican confirms the existing territorial arrangement of China's dioceses. The new bishop was, in fact, ordained "Bishop of Yanggu and apostolic administrator of Linqing" although the Religious Affairs Bureau had put the territory under the new diocese of Liaocheng.

A reorganizing of the dioceses was partly motivated by the need to make dioceses coincide with government provinces. The PA, under the pretext of making the Church more efficient, put several dioceses together and created new ones.