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China-Vatican Agreement: Ordained Bishops and Vacant Dioceses

Over one-third of Catholic communities are without a Bishop four years after the Agreement came into force

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(ZENIT News – Asia News / Milan, 11.07.2022).- During the first week of July Pope Francis mentioned again the Provisional Agreement between China and the Holy See on the appointment of Bishops, whose two-year term is coming to an end. In an interview with Reuters News Agency, the Holy Father said: “It’s going slowly, but (the Bishops, ed.) have been appointed. It goes slowly, as I say, ‘in the Chinese way,’ because the Chinese have that sense of time that doesn’t hurry them at all.” “They also have problems, because the situation isn’t the same in all the regions of the country,” added the Pontiff. “Because it also depends on the rulers, who are different. But the Agreement is good and I hope it can be renewed in October,” he said.

It’s not the first time that Pope Francis intervenes personally in an interview on the Sino-Vatican Agreement. In statements to the Spanish COPE radio chain, answering another question on the topic, he said: “It’s not easy to deal with China, but I’m convinced that we must not give up on dialogue.” And Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State said on April 11, during an interview with ACI Press that he “hoped” that on the occasion of the renewal the ”clarification or revision of some points” of the Agreement could be made, whose text continues being secret. 

In light of these statements, it’s worthwhile to trace a picture of the situation of the appointment of Bishops in China since the coming into force of this Agreement  of October 22, 2018. According to its name, the Agreement addresses the appointment of Bishops and states that the Holy Father has the last word on the only candidate put forward by the Chinese Authorities (the “appointment’ is never mentioned by China). As the content of the Agreement is kept secret, both the Civil Authorities as well as the Ecclesiastic continue behaving as before.

Despite the fact that the Agreement addresses Episcopal appointments, over these almost four years only six Episcopal Ordinations have taken place, although there are some 40 vacant Sees –as we’ll see further on– . However, of the six Episcopal Ordinations, the first two did not follow the Agreement’s procedure. Bishop Yao Shun of Jining, ordained on August 16, 2019, had been approved by the Holy See since 2010. Bishop Xu Hongwei of Hanzhong, ordained the following August 28, had been approved by Rome since 2016. 

The first two Ordinations of Bishops appointed in keeping with the Agreement’s procedure, also with only one candidate, were held in the Winter of 2020, namely, only after the first renewal, which took place in October 2020. They were Bishop Chen Tianhao of Qingdao on November 23, 2020, and Bishop Liu Genzhu of Linfen/Hongdong on December 22, 2020.

Then the Episcopal Ordinations were held of Monsignor Li Hui of Pingliang on July 28, 2021, and Monsignor Cui Qingqi of Wuhan-Hankou on September 8, 2021. Thus, almost one year has passed since the last one. 

The new atmosphere has also fomented another type of contacts and cooperation between the Vatican and China, including six official taking of possession of a diocese. Three non-official Bishops were installed and made official, namely, Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang (on January 30, 2019, who, however, had been negotiating for years to become official without adhering to the principles of the Patriotic Association), Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan of Fuzhou (on June 9, 2020) and Bishop Paul Ma Cunguo of Shuozhou (on July 9, 2020). 

The three other installations were of official Bishops and members of the Episcopal Conference and of the Patriotic Association –the “official” organisms controlled by Beijing– which, for different reasons, had not yet taken official possession of the diocese, as Ordinary Diocesan Bishops. They were: Monsignor Stephen  Xu Hongwei, Bishop of Hanzhong on January 18, 2020 (after the retirement of the elderly Monsignor Louis Yu Runshen); Monsignor Peter Li Huiyuan, Bishop of Fenxiang on June 22, 2020 (he was made official the year before under a certain restriction) and Monsignor Jin Yangke, Bishop of Ningbo on August 18, 2020, who had been ordained Bishop in 2012  –in a somewhat secret way and not according to the official procedure– by the elderly Bishop Hu Xiande. 

Hence, in four years there were six Bishops ordained and six taking of possession by other Bishops. But how many vacant diocese s are there in China? When it comes to defining the number, it must be taken into account that the jurisdictions of the Catholic Hierarchy prior to the advent of Mao’s China, do not correspond with those imposed by the Beijing Government to the ”official” Catholic community. 

According to the data of the Catholic Church in China, there are 147 ecclesiastical jurisdictions, namely, 20 Archdioceses, 96 dioceses (including Macao, Hong Kong, Baotou and Bameng), 29 Apostolic Prefectures and two Ecclesiastical Administrations (Harbin and Hulubei’er). Officially, according to the Chinese Authorities — which have incorporated several dioceses  together, but intend to establish other new ones — there are 104 dioceses in China (excluding Macao and Hong Kong), redesigned according to the limits of the Civil Administration. However, seven of these dioceses (Hainan in the province of the same name, Shaoguan in Guangdong, Xinyang in Henan, Jincheng and Xinzhou in Shanxi, Lishui in Zhejiang and Kangding in Sichuan) have already been put under the administration of other dioceses by the Beijing Authorities, so that the total number is reduced to 97. 

Even supposing that this new ecclesial geography is taken as a point of reference for the Church in China today, there are 36 Sees vacant at present (to which must be added the seven incorporated). Hence, in general, there are more than a third of the Catholic communities without a Bishop four years after the Agreement’s coming into force. Here is a detailed list of the “official” vacant dioceses:


Tianjin in the municipality of Tianjin;

Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Zhangjakou in the province of Hebei;

Jilin in the province of Jilin;

Jinzhong-Yuci, Yuncheng and Datong in the province of Shanxi;

Baotou and Chifeng, in the Autonomous Region of Inner Mongolia; 

Tianshui in the province of Gansu;

Xining in the province of Qinghai;

Xinjiang in the Autonomous Region of Xinjiang;

Chongqing in the municipality of Chongqing;

The diocese of the Autonomous Region of Tibet;

Dali and Zhaotong in the province of Yunnan;

Jiangxi in the province of Jiangxi;

Puqi, Yichang, Jingzhou and Xiangfan in the province of Hebei;

Kaifeng, Zhengzhou, Shangqiu, Luoyang, Zhumadian and Xinxiang  in the province of Henan;

Shanghai in the municipality of Shanghai;

Qinazhou, Yantai v Heze in the province of Shandona;

Hangzhou, Taizhou and Wenzhou in the province of Zhejiang;

Minbei in the province of Fujian. 


Asia News is the specialized media of the Catholic Church in the Far East in general and in China in particular. 

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