Beijing (AsiaNews) - The diocese of Changsha (Hunan) will have a new bishop tomorrow when Fr Timothy Methodius Qu Ailin will be ordained in the city's Cathedral of Immaculate Conception. The 51-year-old has been approved by the Holy See and the Chinese government. Mgr Joseph Li Shan, bishop of Beijing, will be the main celebrant, sources say.
Some of the faithful have objected to Mgr Li's participation. Since he became the vice president of the government-sanctioned Bishops' Conference, he has participated in unlawful Episcopal ordinations and has not clarified his position with the Holy See.
In 2010 and 2011, three ordinations were carried out with papal mandate. A number of bishops have been forced to participate in such ceremonies. In the meantime, the Vatican has set guidelines to follow to avoid possible excommunication and protect believers' faith. They include a request for forgiveness and a public show of repentance by the bishop. So far, it is not known whether Mgr Li has done either of these.
In his diocese, some of the faithful have come to his defence by highlighting his predicament. Not only does he operate in the centre of power, he is also under pressure and the watchful eye of the Catholic Patriotic Chinese Association, with the possibility of seeing funds for diocesan works cut off.
Some China watchers are saying that given Mgr Li's situation, someone else is likely to preside over tomorrow's ceremony.
The province of Hunan in southern China has four dioceses (Changsha, Changde, Lizhou and Yuanling) and five apostolic prefectures (Baojing, Lingling, Lixian, Xiangtan and Yueyang).
Government authorities restructured them into six dioceses in 1991, and merged them into a single Hunan diocese in 1999.
About 20 priests serve 70,000 Catholics in the province, which has been without a bishop for 12 years, following the death of Bishop Simon Qu Tianxi of Changsha in 2000.
The ordination of the new bishop coincides with the conclusion of the meeting of the Vatican Commission on the Church in China.