April 30, 2006

China ignores Vatican and appoints bishop

By Chris Buckley

BEIJING (Reuters) - China pressed ahead with appointing a
new bishop to its state-sanctioned Catholic Church on Sunday
and warned the Vatican not to interfere, risking a deepening
rift with the Vatican which objected to the promotion.

Ma Yingling was ordained bishop of Kunming, capital of
southwest China's Yunnan province, the official Xinhua News
Agency reported.

Earlier, a Vatican-backed news service said the Holy See
objected to Ma's ordination because he was too close to the
government and lacked pastoral experience. Hong Kong's Cardinal
Joseph Zen also urged the ceremony be called off.

But officials in China's state-run church defended Ma's
promotion. And on Sunday, the Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong-based
newspaper that echoes official mainland opinion, quoted a
spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry as saying of the

"The Vatican mustn't interfere in China's internal affairs,
including interfering in domestic matters in the name of

Beijing and the Vatican severed ties after 1949, when the
victorious Communist Party cracked down on religion and the
Vatican switched official recognition to Taiwan, where the
anti-Communist Nationalists fled.

China's 10 million or more Catholics are now divided
between an "underground" church loyal to the Holy See alone,
and a state-approved church that respects the Pope as a
spiritual figurehead but rejects effective papal control.

But even in the government-controlled church, growing
numbers of worshipers and clergy want their bishops to have the
blessing of the Pope, and in recent years it has been customary
for potential bishops to seek Vatican approval.

Ma has been secretary-general of the government-backed
Council of Bishops, which Rome does not recognize, as well as a
vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Both Chinese organizations follow Beijing's line that the
Vatican should not control Chinese church affairs, including
appointment of bishops, and must cut diplomatic ties with

Sunday's ordination may signal a hardening of China's
position, a Beijing observer said.

"On the appointment and dismissal of bishops, China and the
Vatican have never had truly significant negotiations," Ren
Yanli, an expert on China-Vatican relations at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences, a government thinktank, told the Ta
Kung Pao.

Ma's appointment may be "a contest between China and the
Vatican over this issue," he said.