May 6, 2006

China to consecrate bishop with papal blessing

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is expected to appoint an
assistant bishop with papal blessing on Sunday, just days after
Pope Benedict condemned the unilateral ordination of two
bishops by Beijing.

Father Paul Pei Junmin, 37, is scheduled to be consecrated
an assistant bishop at a Catholic church in Shenyang, capital
of the northeastern province of Liaoning, Liu Bainian, a
vice-chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association,
told Reuters.

Jin Peixian, the 80-year-old bishop of Shenyang, is due to
preside over the consecration, said Liu, who often speaks for
the state-controlled church.

The Rome-based AsiaNews service quoted a Vatican source as
saying Pei had the Pope's approval and was "an excellent
candidate from all points of view."

AsiaNews added that it was "very important" that the
appointment of Pei had been approved by the Vatican.

Beijing and the Vatican severed ties after the 1949
Communist takeover in China and subsequent crackdown on
religion. Beijing has since traditionally refused to allow the
Vatican to appoint bishops and let Catholics recognize the
authority of the Pope, saying it would be interference in its
internal affairs.

But in recent years, Beijing and the Holy See -- warily
exploring normalization of ties -- came to an understanding
that usually allows prospective priests and bishops to seek
Vatican approval before taking up posts in the church.

The Vatican and the Chinese government could not
immediately be reached for comment. Chinese state media have
made no mention of the scheduled consecration.

In a move that threatened to undermine rapprochement
efforts, China consecrated a bishop in Wuhu in the eastern
province of Anhui and another in Kunming in the southwestern
province of Yunnan in the past week, drawing unusually harsh
criticism from the Holy See and Pope Benedict himself.

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 rejects effective papal control.