Contrary to what some journalists say, the last five episcopal appointments have more to do more with internal issues in their respective dioceses or with relations to the local government. Fr Sergio Ticozzi, PIME missionary and a China expert, provides some insight.
Hong Kong (AsiaNews) – Yesterday, Mgr Francis Xavier Jin Yangke (1958-) was officially installed as ordinary bishop of the Diocese of Ningbo (Zhejiang), almost three years after the death in 2017 of the then bishop, Mgr Matthew Hu Xiande, who was very aged.
As he approached 80 years and was getting feebler, Bishop Hu felt compelled to ordain Jin as his coadjutor bishop, which he did it, quietly, on 28 November 2012. Upon Hu’s death, Mgr Jin succeeded him without much fanfare, not only as head of the Diocese, but also of the local branch of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
The Council of Chinese Bishops finally agreed to his installation and the president of the Council, Mgr Joseph Ma Yinglin, led the ceremony that saw the participation of all the diocesan clergy and about 200 believers.
Yesterday’s was the fifth official installation for ordinary diocesan bishops since the Vatican and China signed a provisional agreement on 22 September 2018. Two more episcopal ordinations took place in official communities, but some clarification is needed to avoid misunderstandings.
The ordination of Mgr Anthony Yao Shun (1965-) as bishop of Jining (Inner Mongolia), on 26 August 2019, and Mgr Stephen Xu Hongwei (1975-) as bishop of Hanzhong (Shaanxi), on 28 August 2019, do not come under the Agreement, but had been in the making for a long time, under the separate auspices of the local community and the aged local bishop respectively.
Circumstances and reasons were different for the five other installations. Negotiations for the first, that of Mgr Peter Jin Lugang (1956-) who became bishop of Nanyang (Henan) on 30 January 2019, had been going on for more than four years and was part of the slow and tiring process involving eight unofficial priests in Nanyang, faced with the dilemma of registering or be sent away, thus leaving their churches without clergy.
Despite various appeals, they managed to find a practical solution on their own, including the official installation of Bishop Jin.
Two underground bishops – Mgr Peter Lin Jiashan (1934-) of Fuzhou (Fujian) and Mgr Paul Ma Cunguo (1971-) of Shuozhou (Shanxi) – were also officially installed. Bishop Lin had been hoping for a long time to be officially recognised as a "metropolitan," but he dithered over asking for Rome’s approval.
In the end, 86 years old and feeble, perhaps pushed by some priests with ulterior motives, Bishop Lin accepted (9 June 2020). Conversely, Bishop Ma did things calmly on 9 July 2020, with the cooperation of local authorities, to avoid further difficulties to his pastoral ministry.
The other two installations are that of Mgr Peter Li Huiyuan (1965-) on 22 June 2020, who was ordained bishop in 2014 by Mgr Lucas Li Jingfeng, Bishop of Fengxiang (Shaanxi), and succeeded him in 2017, and that of Mgr Jin Yangke of Ningbo.
Both were already official bishops, who succeeded their respective ordinary bishop after their death, but without being officially installed, as the Bishops' Council was late in agreeing to it for various reasons.
Most likely, the delay was due to the fact that both had been ordained by their aged predecessors in a way that was deemed not in accordance with the rules. In the end they were given the green light and took the step without any reticence because they were already connected to the CPCA.
It seems clear that each case must be examined on its own merit, and this can sometimes be difficult. Unfortunately, some journalists tend to put recent events under the rubric of the Sino-Vatican Agreement and give them an ambiguous, if not false twist.