May 12, 2006

China’s Catholics divided by new bishop appointment

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - Sparring between Beijing and the
Vatican is set to intensify on Sunday as China installs another
bishop apparently without the blessing of the Pope, extending a
row over who rules China's divided Catholic Church.

Zhan Silu, also called Vincent Zhan, will become bishop of
Mindong Diocese in eastern Fujian province, and he -- like two
other bishops appointed in China in past weeks -- apparently
lacks the Holy See's approval, which bishops even in China's
state-controlled church have regularly sought in recent years.

"I did write to the Vatican to ask for recognition, but
I've never heard anything back," Zhan said on Friday. "For me,
Vatican approval is important, but I also have to consider
local needs."

Zhan's impending appointment is the latest episode in a row
that has deepened a rift between China and the Vatican, which
have been exploring diplomatic ties after decades of division
since the Chinese Communists won control of the mainland in

There are some 10 million Catholics in China, divided
between an "underground" church loyal to the Holy See and the
state-approved church that respects the Pope as a spiritual
figurehead but has no formal ties with the Vatican.

Zhan, 45, was appointed a bishop in 2000, when China
appointed five contrary to Vatican opposition, and he has since
been based in Fujian. But he has not been formally installed as
a head of a diocese or led a full Mass as bishop.

On Sunday, he in effect comes off the reserves bench to
replace the former bishop of Mindong, based in the small city
of Ningde, who died last year aged 88.


A priest from Fujian familiar with Zhan said priests even
in the state-recognised church there were considering
boycotting the ceremony as Rome had not signaled its approval,
but were under pressure from government officials to attend.

"Some priests are very worked up about this," he said.
"Because he has not been recognized by the Vatican, priests
have not cooperated with him and so he hasn't consulted them."

He said the church in Fujian, an avidly commercial province
where people have a history of spurning central control, is
sharply split between the government-approved church and a
large, often strong-willed "underground" church loyal to Rome

"I don't think the Vatican has approved of Zhan because of
his background and because the underground parishioners there
are so opposed," he said. Zhan holds a senior post in the
Communist Party-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.

Zhan said he had invited representatives of the large
underground Catholic church to his ceremony, but they had not
responded. "We have different views about things," he said.

Officially atheist China traditionally refused to allow the
Vatican to appoint bishops, saying it would be interference in
its internal affairs.

In recent years, Beijing and the Holy See came to an
implicit understanding that allowed prospective bishops to seek
Vatican approval before taking up their posts, said Father
Jeroom Heyndrickx, director of the Verbiest Institute at
Louvain University in Belgium, who often travels to China.

But in past weeks, China has consecrated a bishop in Wuhu
in the eastern province of Anhui and another in Kunming in
southwestern Yunnan, drawing harsh criticism from Pope Benedict

"It is such a pity, because there was a kind of peaceful
evolution going on, with the (Chinese) authorities closing one
eye to approval from Rome," said Heyndrickx.