Vatican delegation in China for ‘practical steps’ to implement bishop agreement: spokesperson

By Li Ruohan and Zhang Yu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/12/15 19:46:55

Duty change in Mindong diocese should be read with goodwill: bishop

Pope Francis kisses a toddler on the forehead as he arrives on the popemobile for his weekly general audience at St. Peter’s square in the Vatican. File photo: AFP 

A Vatican delegation has been in China this week for talks about the implementation of a bishop-appointment agreement signed between the two sides, said a Holy See spokesperson.  

The delegation is in China for talks with "both government and church officials" to work on  "practical steps" to implement the recent provisional agreement, Greg Burke, director of the Holy See press office, told the Global Times in an emailed statement on Friday local time.  

The content of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishop has not been made public since it was signed in September.   

The Vatican also announced in September it acknowledges the seven bishops in China ordained without pontifical mandate, along with bishop Tu Shihua who died in 2017.    

The delegation met with the seven Chinese bishops on Wednesday in Beijing, Bishop Huang Bingzhang, who attended the meeting, told the Global Times on Saturday.   

"The meeting with the bishops is more than just a courtesy move and some specific issues have been discussed," said Huang, refusing to elaborate details.  

The agreement in September only granted the title of the seven bishops while the mission this time is to specify which dioceses they are responsible for, as well as their duty and responsibility in the dioceses, Wang Meixiu, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Saturday.   

Procedures on whether and how to acknowledge the bishops that are not acknowledged by Chinese government are also likely to be discussed with the delegation, Wang said.   

Meanwhile, election or appointment of bishops in dioceses that face bishop vacancy will also be discussed, Wang predicted.   

Among the 98 dioceses in the Chinese mainland, 40 of them are without bishops, Bishop Guo Jincai, secretary general of the Bishops Conference of the Catholic Church in China, said in an earlier interview with the Global Times in March.   

Among the 61 bishops, 12 are over the age of 80, making the appointment bishops an even more pressing issue, Guo said.   

Bishop Zhan Silu, who is from the State-sanctioned church and also among the seven bishops acknowledge by Vatican in September, will be the diocesan bishop in Mindong Southeast China's Fujian Province.   

Guo Xijin, the underground bishop of the diocese of Mindong, has accepted the role of auxiliary bishop, Guo Xijin told the Global Times on Friday after meeting the Vatican delegation.   

The underground and State-sanctioned churches in the diocese of Mindong will merge, Guo Xijin said. 

The understanding of an underground bishop "stepping down" for a government-sanctioned bishop is wrong, said Huang, who referred to the adjustment as a "normal change of position" as a result of the practical needs of church affairs.  

The change could be a "new model" for the two sides and should be accepted with more goodwill, Huang said.  

The ongoing talk shows that the two sides are moving in the right direction and that China's Catholic churches are reconciling, which is also in accordance with Chinese government's expectation that the church be a contributor to social stability and unity, said Wang.  

"However, it is still too early to project whether diplomatic relations are possible at this current stage, as it will take a rather long time to fully address the religious issues and diplomatic relation is not a pressing issue," said Wang.  

The Holy See press office has not replied to questions about whether the delegation's mission includes discussions of establishing diplomatic ties or a possible visit to China by Pope Francis.

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