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WUHAN, China (LifeSiteNews) – The Vatican has given its approval to ordain a new bishop to the long-vacant see of Wuhan, accepting a well-known Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insider, the only candidate put forward by the CCP for Vatican consideration. 

Father Francis Joseph Cui Qingqi, O.F.M., is to be ordained as Bishop of Wuhan at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on September 8the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, AsiaNews confirmed Sunday.

Cui’s appointment fills the seat which has lay vacant since 2007, becoming the fourth bishop to be consecrated under the Sino–Vatican agreement since its renewal in October 2020 and the sixth since the deal was first struck in 2018. 

 The report from AsiaNews, which acts as the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, details Cui’s candidacy for the Wuhan seat as uncontested, with the CCP making him their sole recommendation. 

 After an agreement was signed between the Church and Chinese authorities in 2018 for episcopal appointments, and again renewed for two more years in 2020, the CCP released updated guidelines in May 2021, redefining the terms under which Catholic bishops will be selected. 

The outspoken former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has repeatedly warned of the dangers posed by the Vatican’s accord with Communist China. The cardinal described the Pope’s actions as “encouraging a schism. You are legitimizing the schismatic church in China.” 

Zen noted that signing to show one’s submission to the “schismatic church” means that “[y]ou are cheating the whole world. You are cheating the faithful. To sign the document is not to sign a declaration. When you sign, you accept to be a member of that church under the leadership of the communist party. So terrible, terrible.” 

Although the contents of the original agreement are still secret, it is understood by China experts that the Pope formally confirms the appointment of bishops in China from nominations made by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the state-controlled, overground church in China. 

Under new rules released earlier this year, however, no mention of the Pope or the Vatican is made regarding the process of appointing bishops. In fact, “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. 

“Obviously, the Vatican was unable to refuse the appointment, even if the concrete possibilities of assessing its suitability were evidently limited,” the AsiaNews report reads, noting that Cui’s “democratic” nomination was confirmed by the CCP just under a year ago on September 27, 2020. 

Installing a new bishop in Wuhan “had long been hoped for, as proof and symbol of the autonomy of the official church recognized and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” AsiaNews added. 

Cui’s selection by Communist rulers comes as no surprise, given that the priest was instrumental in implementing the demands of the CCP within the Wuhan diocese. 

In 2012, while Father Joseph Shen Guo’an was diocesan administrator during the elongated period of sede vacante, 19 of the dioceses 23 priests convened to decide on parish appointments themselves, without the obstruction of the regime. 

Consequently, after forging ahead with reassignments within the Wuhan diocese, the provincial government “interrogated the priests and warned against any changes,” according to a La Stampa report at the time. 

Despite the efforts of the government, the priests resolved to continue with their plans, but were met just a week later with a severe reprisal from Chinese authorities, who escorted “15 priests and several nuns … to the office of the provincial Religious Affairs Bureau for a meeting.” At this meeting, the leadership in the diocese was reshuffled, with Shen being removed as administrator, to be replaced with a “management committee” headed up by Cui. 

La Stampa reported that “[n]o priests and nuns except Fr. Cui were allowed to speak at the [December] meeting.” Cui, who was absent from the November meeting in which clergy appointments were made without state approval, “was seen to be with government officials before arriving at the diocese” in December.  

Before Shen’s removal in 2012, the CCP apparently “had supported him as an episcopal candidate, setting the date of his ordination for June 9, 2011,” but suddenly halted plans within days of his consecration, leaving him to act as administrator, according to AsiaNews. 

LifeSiteNews contacted both the Holy See Press Office and Vatican Dicastery for Communication to confirm the Pope’s involvement in the process of appointing the new Wuhan bishop, but received no reply before publication.