China urgently needs ‘politically reliable,’ ‘religiously knowledgeable’ bishops as 50% of Catholic dioceses face vacancies

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/18 17:34:19

Need to be ‘politically reliable,’ have ‘good ethics’

A Christmas tree stands in front of a Catholic church in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province on Tuesday. Photo: Li Ruohan/GT

China's Catholic community urgently needs to select bishops who are politically reliable and with good ethics and religious knowledge as nearly half of China's Catholic dioceses face bishop vacancies, said senior Chinese religious officials and bishops on Tuesday.

China has ordained 203 bishops since the country followed the religious independence and self-management principles in late 1950s. 

However, among the current 98 dioceses in the country, nearly half of them have no bishops and several older bishops are about to retire, said Bishop Ma Yinglin, chairman of the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC). China's Catholic community urgently needs to select bishops who are politically reliable and with good ethics and religious knowledge, Ma said at a seminar on Tuesday in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province.

The seminar is the first to bring together Catholic clergies across China, following a historic bishop appointment agreement between China and the Vatican in September and last week's rare visit by a Vatican delegation.

"The appointment of bishops will be one of the major tasks of China's Catholic churches and we hope the agreement with the Vatican will speed up the process," Bishop Huang Bingzhang, deputy chairman of Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, told the Global Times on Sunday. 

While expressing optimism, Huang stressed that both sides should safeguard and cherish the current negotiation mechanism to avoid misunderstandings.  The provisional agreement has "pointed the direction" for future China-Vatican exchanges, said BCCCC secretary-general Bishop Guo Jincai.

The agreement also "injected new vitality" into such exchanges, Guo noted.  Guo and another Chinese bishop, Yang Xiaoting, were invited for the first time to attend a Vatican bishops conference in October.  The two Chinese bishops were warmly greeted by bishops from the world, Guo said at the seminar.

The Chinese bishops' visit to the Vatican comes amid warming relations. Insiders with close contacts in Beijing and the Vatican told the Global Times that religious issues are no longer an "obstacle" for the two sides to establish diplomatic relations.

"Sincerity and goodwill were well received by both sides' religious sectors, while official diplomatic relations involve broader issues and perfect timing," said a source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

As China's Catholic churches increase exchanges with international society more openly, the world is showing greater understanding and confidence in the country's religious sector and government, Huang said. 

Over 300 Chinese clergy have been sent to countries like the US, UK, France and Italy for further religious studies since 1958, Ma said.

International exchanges by the Catholic community must be held in a friendly and equal manner, and should not harm national interests and dignity, said Wang Zuoan, deputy head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

He stressed that the principles of religious independence and self-management will not shift "at any time and under any circumstance."

Catholic clergy have been significant contributors to social stability, national unity and the country's progress in reform and opening-up as they are encouraged to not only embrace the faith, but also be patriotic, Wang said. 

Wang also called for encouraging more clergy and believers "affected by" underground churches to be part of the patriotic groups.      
Newspaper headline: Bishops urgently needed


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