Episcopal appointments: the pope’s big gift to the Chinese Church?
by Shan Ren Shen Fu

A priest from the official (state-approved) Church speaks about the news that the signing of agreement between China and the Vatican is “imminent”, that the legitimisation of excommunicated bishops is “imminent”, and that the right to appoint bishops will soon pass into Beijing’s hands (or rather those of the Council of Chinese bishops, which is not recognised by the Holy See). “Some have said that the negotiations between China and the Vatican have come at the expense of the underground Church. In fact, if the pope grants Beijing the right to appoint bishops, then the entire Church in China will be sacrificed." Writing under the name of ‘hermit priest,’ the author of this piece is a well known blogger from northern China.


Beijing (AsiaNews) – It was said that the ordination ceremony of Father Ding Lingbin in Changzhi Diocese would take place on November 10, during the month of the Souls in Purgatory. In the past, there were cases in which the ordination date was set and announced; however, as time approached, the date was changed or even cancelled quietly.

Often those incidents happened because of the problems coming from personnel assignment, the religious and faithful wanting to boycott since the government tries to “mix with the sand” (for example, having an illicit bishop concelebrate the ordination mass), the bishop-selected suddenly refusing to be ordained, or disapproving of the letter of appointment given by patriotic bishop conference, which would be announced openly during the ordination ceremony. This is what happened on the inauguration of Bishop Zhu Weifang in Wenzhou. Father Sun Zhenhua snatched the letter of appointment from the delegates of Bishops Conference of Catholic Church in China and Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association since the letter of appointment should have been read by a delegate from the Holy See.

Therefore, there are still many variables before Fr. Ding Lingbin can be ordained as a bishop. As of now, lots of Chinese news appears to be positive in order to confuse the Vatican vision, such as claiming to legalize illegal Bishops, transfer the right of bishop appointment to Beijing, and that an agreement will be reached and signed by both China and the Vatican. This increases pressure for the Vatican in the process of negotiations between China and the Vatican.

Why say this? Obviously, both Fr. Ding of Changzhi Diocese and Fr. Tang of Chengdu have received the letter of appointment from the Vatican. Hence, even though the Sino-Vatican agreement has not been signed yet and those illicit bishops won't become legal before ordination day of November 10, at worst, this will just result in being forced to read the false letter of appointment, “mixing the sand”, similar to what happened in the past.

According to the previous experiences on bishop ordination, the letter of appointment from Vatican was read to clergy in the diocese privately. In addition, no matter what, the clergy of each diocese will use positive or negative attitudes to boycott the government’s “mixing the sand” and reading the false letter of appointment. This is the way to insist on sticking to faith principles and expressing of loyalty. By doing this, it preserves the effectiveness of the sacrament and displays the sacredness and inviolability of the ordination ceremonies.

According to the canon law of the Catholic Church, it is rightful for the pope to appoint the bishop; this is not disputable. Therefore, both Fr. Ding Lingbin and Fr. Tang Yunge, who have received the approvals and appointments from the pope through private channels, are eligible bishop-elects.

As matter of fact, the authorities are aware of this and turn a blind eye to it since they also know that very few are willing to be illegally ordained and willing to be excommunicated.

It has been announced that Fr. Ding Lingbin will be ordained as a bishop (in fact, it should have been done a long time ago since this ordination does not violate the law).  (It is said that the diocese of Chengdu is also actively preparing for the work of the ordination). China once again uses this situation to force Vatican to move forward on the negotiations. But as I have discussed before, they can't do anything but let the illegal bishops join to "mix the sand" and read the false the letter of appointment.

Honestly speaking, after all these years of fighting, bishops, along with priests and faithful in Chinese Church, will try by every means to make the ceremony of consecration legitimate and sacred. After Pope Francis stated that slow work yields fine product and haste does not bring success for Sino-Vatican negotiations, it might be assumed that the we will not see the Holy Father, who in the past has expressed the best wishes and has spoken good words to Chinese Government, show a clear and positive attitude towards the negotiations. Only the Vatican Insider aggressively conveys their message about how the Chinese Church is, although in a difficult situation, willing to sacrifice and compromise in order to reach an agreement with the Vatican (such as the interview with the underground bishop, the Chinese bishop's database, the list of the pope's enemies). Their message seems true, but that is not certain.

In the end though, episcopal nominations still fall under papal authority. Thus, amid the news strongly propagated by Chinese news media that "China and the Vatican have reached an agreement on the appointment of bishops," Pope Francis has remained lucid. Even though he has expressed a desire to do a great thing for "the Church in China" before the closing of the Jubilee Year, I do not believe that this great thing is to give to Beijing the right to appoint bishops as a gift!

Some have said that the negotiations between China and the Vatican have come at the expense of the underground Church. In fact, if the pope grants Beijing the right to appoint bishops, then the entire Church in China will be sacrificed. "For the good of the Church in China" the Church in China will be sacrificed, handing its sacred authority over to an atheistic government. I don’t think the Vatican can take such a step in such a flippant manner!

Some media are saying that China and the Vatican have already signed the agreement and that the pope will retain the right to veto (episcopal) candidates. Have they signed the agreement or not? We’ll just have to wait and see if there is any change to Mgr Ding Lingbin’s ordination scheduled for this month. Let's see if it changes, if the ordination takes place smoothly, if there are no cover-ups (mixing legitimate and illegitimate bishops). Let us see if during the reading of the pseudo-appointment, someone will publicly disrupt it, if only by whistling (his disapproval).

China always likes to weigh things its way. Before and after the various meetings of the (Sino-Vatican) working group, media tend to plunge into wild speculations driving the Church in China mad (schizophrenia). In fact, some throw insults; others express disappointment; some applaud; others plot. But the main thing they want to convey is always the same: Chinese Catholics are ready to welcome with joy the signing of the ‘Agreement between China and the Vatican’, urging the pope to give "the authority to appoint bishops" (to Beijing), paying homage to the opening of the ninth Assembly of Chinese Catholic representatives!

Still, until the agreement between China and the Vatican is not made public, until Pope Francis does not explicitly speak about it, and despite the use of (government) media, our answer is always with Card. Zen’s words, namely, I don’t like secret talks between China and the Vatican.

There is not much time to wait. On November 10, the truth will come out on its own . . .

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