May 29, 2006

Rome-approved Chinese bishop defies state church

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Chinese bishop approved by the
Vatican but not by China's official state-backed Catholic
church has defied authorities and officiated at a religious
ceremony, a Hong Kong newspaper reported on Monday.

The row over Wu Qinjing's appearance highlighted the
current friction between the Holy See and Beijing over the
appointment of bishops, a key sticking point in negotiations
over the normalization of relations which were severed in the
early 1950s.

Wu appeared at Zhouzhi cathedral in the northern province
of Shaanxi on Saturday despite official warnings that his
secret October elevation, made public only last Monday, was
illegal and that he could not work as a bishop, the South China
Morning Post said on Monday.

"It first came as a suggestion, then a requirement, and an
order. It is a final warning," the paper quoted a Catholic
source as saying.

"Bishop Wu would like to give the government time to
acknowledge his legality within the needed process, but at the
same time he does not want to compromise his religious belief."

China has some 10 million Catholics, but they are split
between an underground church loyal to the Holy See, and the
official church, whose members lack formal ties to the Vatican.

The paper said Wu appeared in priest's vestments, not
bishop's, but he was wearing a red biretta, the stiff square
cap worn by clergy, and a ring.

Hopes for rapprochement have been complicated in recent
weeks by Beijing's appointment of three bishops without the
Pope's blessing -- the heart of the row over who rules China's
divided Catholic Church.