SHANGHAI (LifeSiteNews) — The Chinese Communist Party authorities have appointed another Catholic diocesan bishop in disregard for the Sino-Vatican deal and the Vatican itself, with the Holy See not being involved in the decision.
On April 4, Bishop Shen Bin was installed as the new bishop of the Diocese of Shanghai, an event predicted by AsiaNews the day before. His appointment as head of the diocese came only from the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Group, part of the official Chinese state-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA).
The CPA reported that the ceremony was led by “Father Wu Jianlin, Director of the Catholic Academic Committee of Shanghai and Deputy Director of the Catholic Patriotic Congress of Shanghai.”
Bishop Shen’s appointment letter came from the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Group — of which he is head — and was read aloud by Father Yang Yu, the group’s secretary general. The Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Group does not recognize the authority of the Holy See with regard to appointing new bishops. Meanwhile, Chinese Catholic Patriotic Congress chairman and bishop of the Beijing diocese Li Shan gave a speech.
According to AsiaNews, Shen promised to continue “patriotism and love” for the Church in Shanghai. He reportedly highlighted “the principle of independence and self-administration,” and committed to attempts to “sinicize” Chinese Catholicism.
Vatican not involved in decision
The appointing of Shen as bishop of Shanghai marks yet another instance of Beijing authorities disregarding the Vatican’s involvement in the nomination of bishops.
The Vatican-recognized bishop of Shanghai is actually Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin. He had been appointed to the see as its auxiliary in 2012, with the CCP believing him to be loyal to them. However, after his consecration he denounced and left the CPA and was subsequently sequestered to house arrest in a nearby seminary.
Bishop Shen had been the bishop of Haimen, in China’s Jiangsu province — a position he had held since 2010, and one that had been approved of by the Vatican. The CCP moving him to Shanghai means that two Vatican-recognized diocesan bishops have been thus rejected by the CCP — Ma of Shanghai and Shen of Haimen.
In a statement issued after AsiaNews reported on the ceremony, the Holy See Press Office director Matteo Bruni highlighted how the Vatican was not involved in the decision, but merely “informed.”
“The Holy See had been informed a few days ago of the decision of the Chinese authorities” to move Shen to Shanghai. The Vatican only “learned from the media of the settlement this morning,” said Bruni.
“For the moment, I have nothing to say about the Holy See’s assessment of the matter,” he added.
Yet this is not the first time that Beijing has openly reneged on the Vatican’s deal. In November 2022 the CCP appointed Bishop John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi. The diocese is not recognized by the Holy See, and in a subsequent statement the Vatican declared that it learnt of the ceremony with “surprise and regret.”
The installation ceremony “did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican and Chinese sides and what was stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops, Sept. 22, 2018,” wrote the Vatican. The Holy See continued by issuing an appearance of subjugation to the CCP authorities, expressing a wish “that similar episodes will not be repeated,” and adding the Vatican “remains awaiting appropriate communications on the matter from the Authorities, and reaffirms its full readiness to continue respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest.”
First signed in 2018 and later renewed in both 2020 and 2022, the Sino-Vatican deal’s specific details remain undisclosed with a peculiar air of mystery surrounding them. China expert Stephen Mosher described the deal as an action which was “perhaps the most controversial of a papacy dogged by controversy.”
It is believed to recognize the state-approved version of the Catholic Church and allows the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to appoint bishops. The Pope apparently maintains a veto power although in practice it is the CCP that has control. It also allegedly allows for the removal and replacement of legitimate bishops by CCP-approved bishops.
While Both Francis and Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin have continually defended the deal, emeritus bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen has repeatedly criticized it strongly. He described the agreement as an “incredible betrayal” of China’s Catholics, and accused the Vatican of “selling out” Chinese Catholics.
It has led to a heightened increase in religious persecution since the deal was signed, which the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China described as a direct consequence of the deal. In its 2020 report, the Commission wrote that the persecution witnessed is “of an intensity not seen since the Cultural Revolution.”