Mons. Shen Bin. Photo: Portaluz

New Bishop of Shanghai: Sticking Point Between China and Vatican

The Holy See was not informed of the decision by the Chinese authorities to transfer Msgr. Shen Bin, Bishop of Haimen, to the diocese of Shanghai. The news reached Rome through the media.

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(ZENIT News / Rome-Beijing, 04.13.2023).- Mao Ning, spokesman of China’s Foreign Relations Ministry, said last week that the Chinese Government and the Vatican are in communication about the appointment of a new Bishop in Shanghai. According to the Vatican, the unilateral appointment of this new Prelate seems a violation of the bilateral pact between the two States.

The Holy See was not informed about the Chinese Authorities’ decision to move Monsignor Shen Bin , Bishop of Haimen, to the diocese of Shanghai. Rome received the news through the media. According to “AsiaNews,” the Vatican requested an immediate clarification, although it did not give an assessment of the incident. 

When Reuters Agency consulted Mao Ning about the position of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on this situation, Mao said: “We are willing to stay in contact with the Vatican side to maintain the spirit of the Agreement.” China and the Vatican signed a Provisional Agreement on the appointment of Bishops and Mao Ning emphasized: “The two sides have kept in close communication and the Agreement is being well implemented.”

The Agreement between the Holy See and China is secret and it’s not known if it mentions transfers, which are common in Catholic life, although Bishops are always appointed by the Pope. The transfer of Bishop John Pen Weizhao, Auxiliary of the diocese of Jiangxi, to Shanghai, should have been more than informed, as it requires the Vatican’s participation in the appointment. The situation of last November 26 has been repeated, when the Holy See protested for the first time the transfer of a Bishop to another diocese without ecclesiastical approval. 

The Episcopal See of Shanghai is the local Church of a great metropolis in the country, with a history and strong life in the sight of all the Chinese Catholic community. It has 150,000 Catholics, 40 parishes and much activity on the part of the local faithful. Its origin goes back to Paul Xu Guangqi, regarded as the city’s first Christian, a mandarin of the Ming Court and disciple of Matteo Ricci, who invited Jesuit Lazzaro Cattaneo to preach in 1608. The city’s first church was built on land of a family of the Xujiahui neighbourhood. Saint Ignatius’ Cathedral is there, where Bishop Pen Weizhao’s canonical possession took place. 

The Plenary Council of the Chinese Church also took place in Shanghai, which was convoked in 1924 by the Apostolic Delegate, Monsignor Celso Costantini, a crucial moment of Catholic reflection on the inculturation of Christianity in China. With the advent of the Communist Revolution, Monsignor Kung Pin-mei, first Chinese Archbishop of the See, was arrested by the Authorities on September 8, 1955. Released after 30 years in prison, he was exiled in the United States where he died in the year 2000. In the Consistory of 1979, John Paul II appointed him Cardinal in pectore while he was in prison, as a sign of closeness with the Church in China, appointment that was made public in 1991. 

During the Cultural Revolution, Jesuit Aloysius Jin Luxian was appointed Bishop of Shanghai by the autonomous decision of the Catholic organisms loyal to the Party. In 2005 he returned to communion with the Pope and died in 2013 at 97. The Episcopal See was vacant for ten years, because Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ma Daqin announced in 2012 his refusal to remain attached to the Patriotic Association, when he was ordained Bishop with the Pope’s mandate. He was secluded in the Seminary adjacent to the Marian Shrine of Our Lady of Sheshan, heart of devotion of Catholics of Shanghai and of all China. In a letter in 2007, Benedict XVI invited Chinese Catholics to look at this Shrine. He also established the World Day of Prayer for the Church in China on May 24 every year. 

The unilateral appointment of Monsignor Shen decided by the Chinese Government has a  political character in a country where the Authorities rule all aspects of citizens’ life. 

The Vatican has not expressed its agreement and will take time to assess the situation, without aggravating it. This episode shows that the Agreement with the Chinese Government functions differently from the Holy See’s desire and that of Chinese Catholics. Shanghai’s Episcopal See has been vacant since 2014, following the death of Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang, who was called “clandestine” by the Government. 

Some suggest that Thaddeus Ma might be restored as Auxiliary Bishop. It’s difficult to anticipate if the political Authorities will allow it, although it could facilitate the Hoy See’s acceptance of an unscheduled transfer and placate the bitterness being experienced in the Vatican.

Joseph Xing Wenzhi is another Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, who  resigned and disappeared from public life  at the end of 2011, considered the successor designate of Monsignor Aloysius Jin. He wasn’t ordained Co-Adjutor because of the simultaneous presence of Bishop Jin and clandestine Bishop Joseph Fan. Joseph Xing’s history is confused, as he opposed the Authorities’ religious policies. It seems he was discredited, a victim of calumnies and obliged to resign. Xing was elected for his spiritual and moral qualities, which hopefully haven’t failed, despite the unfortunate circumstance that caused his resignation. His return to the ecclesial scene isn’t easy, although he is owed respect and rehabilitation given his difficult and long-suffering history. 

The new Bishop Shen is not pleasing to the Catholic community of Shanghai. He is the President of the Chinese Episcopal Conference, illegitimate body in the sight of the  Church because he was imposed and is manipulable by the Authorities of religious policy in China. He is a member of the Political Advisory Assembly of the Chinese People, together with ten other Catholics. He expresses himself publicly in favour of the chinization of religions, being inculcated by the current leaders. Moreover, he has a great ability to deal with the political Authorities

Catholics of Shanghai and the whole of China are experiencing times of suffering and risk, including death, but they continue to be united with Jesus and the Church. The prayer of  all Catholics will be a strong support for their perseverance in hope and in faith in Jesus Christ.  

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Rafael Llanes

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