New rules from Chinese gov’t make no mention of the Vatican in process for appointing new bishops
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BEIJING, China, February 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – The Chinese government have released new guidelines regarding the Catholic clergy in China, including a rule whereby bishops must be elected from among the state-sponsored Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), appointed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and consecrated through China’s Catholic Bishops Conference (CCCB), which is not recognised by the Vatican.
No reference is made in the new ruling to the Vatican’s wishes in the appointment of bishops in China, despite the highly criticized 2018 deal, renewed in 2020 for a further two years, that allowed Pope Francis to appoint bishops in conjunction with the CCP.
As part of the agreement made in 2018, Pope Francis recognized seven bishops appointed by the Chinese government who had previously been excommunicated, even requesting that two underground, legitimate Chinese bishops cede their offices to accommodate the former schismatics.
According to reports, the Vatican-China deal afforded the Holy See the ability to approve or deny candidates forwarded by the CCPA. This framework has already been used to install three bishops in China.
The document laying out the new rules, “Administrative Measures for Religious Clergy,” which has been translated into English by Bitter Winter, a magazine on religious freedom in China, takes effect on May 1. Now,
“Catholic bishops are approved and consecrated by the Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference,” after being appointed by the CCP, according to Article XVI of the new rules.
LifeSiteNews spoke to China expert and Population Research Institute founder Steven Mosher, who called the new rules “a slap of the face of the Vatican.”
“Catholics are told by article 16 that bishops in China should be democratically elected through the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, i.e., appointed by the CCP, and consecrated through the Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference. There is no mention of the Vatican or the Pope, which in theory should appoint the bishops under the Vatican-China deal of 2018," Mosher explained.
“Since the Sino-Vatican Agreement is still secret, it is impossible to know for certain what it says about the appointment of bishops. We know that Pope Francis believes that he appoints the bishops of the Catholic Church in China, because he has said so. It is also clear that the CCP is here asserting that it appoints those self-same bishops.”
“So what is the reality?” Mosher asks.
“My understanding of the  agreement is that it says that the CCP shall nominate, and the Pope shall confirm, bishops. This, presumably, gives the Holy Father a veto over bishop appointments in China. At the same time, however, a senior Chinese official has said, quite plainly, that the Pope cannot continually veto candidates, nor can he indefinitely refuse to give his consent to a CCP nominee. In these circumstances, he said, the ordinations will go forward anyway.”
On account of this, Mosher noted that “the new regulations state quite plainly that the CCP is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to deciding who heads Chinese dioceses. I take their statement at face value.”
Additional measures for the clergy in China have been included in the new rules beside those of episcopal ordinations. All priests will be required to register in a database that will “regulate the management of religious clergy” from May. The purpose of the database, run by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, will be to continually assess a religious minister’s loyalty to the CCP, as Article III of the rules stipulates:
Religious clergy should love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, abide by the Constitution, laws, regulations, and rules, practice the core values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independent and self-administered religion in China, adhere to the direction of the Sinicization of religion in China, operate to maintain national unity, religious harmony, and social stability.
The new rules will also require registered clergy, who are each assigned a unique identifying record number, to “guide” their congregations “to be patriotic and law-abiding.” They are prohibited from organizing or participating in “unauthorized religious activities held outside the authorized places of religious activities,” as well as “preach in schools and other educational institutions other than religious institutions.”
Clergy who are unregistered, not satisfying the stringent rules attached to membership of the database, yet claiming to be priests and acting as such, will be breaking the law, including those priests and bishops who remain loyal to Rome and reject the CCPA.