New Beijing Bishop Chosen

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

VATICAN CITY – Catholic clergy in China have named a new bishop for Beijing, reports said Wednesday _ the first appointment since Pope Benedict XVI sent a letter to Chinese Catholics urging them to unite under his authority.

The Vatican had no comment on the reports, which said Bishop Joseph Li Shan was selected by a group of Chinese priests, nuns and lay people. While the pope did not name him, Li Shan was apparently on a list of names that the Vatican had indicated it would not object to, the Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews agency reported.

Still, the appointment contravenes the traditional practice in which the pope names bishops. Benedict did not explicitly insist on that right in his June 30 letter to the Catholic faithful in China, taking a more conciliatory approach by saying merely that the Vatican “would desire to be completely free to appoint bishops.”

Email newsletter signup

“I trust that an accord can be reached with the government,” he added.

The Vatican would like to have a formula similar to the one it has with Vietnam, another communist country, where the Vatican proposes a few names and the government selects one.

China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the officially atheist Communist Party took power. Worship is allowed only in the government-controlled churches, which recognize the pope as a spiritual leader but appoint their own priests and bishops.

Millions of Chinese, however, belong to unofficial congregations that are not registered with the authorities.

Benedict has been trying to reconcile the divisions, and sent the letter to all Catholics in China _ which the Vatican estimates at between 8 million to 12 million _ in a bid to unite them. In it, he praised the underground faithful but urged them to reconcile with followers in the official church.

At the same time, he called the government-sanctioned China Patriotic Catholic Association “incompatible” with Catholic doctrine.

The Beijing appointment had been closely watched as an early indication of the government’s reaction to Benedict’s letter. The appointment of bishops has been the main stumbling block in resuming relations; China views papal appointments as interference in its internal affairs.

The ANSA news agency quoted the deputy chairman of the Patriotic Association as saying the nomination was not formalized yet, since China’s bishops had yet to approve it.

“It’s too early to speak about contacts with the Vatican,” ANSA quoted him as saying.

AsiaNews said Li Shan had shown independence in his dealings with the Patriotic Association, and was admired by the faithful as a result.

Li Shan replaces Bishop Fu Tieshan, the hard-line chairman of the Patriotic Association who died in April.

In other news Wednesday, AsiaNews reported that Zhao Zhendong, bishop of Xuanhua, had died after a long illness.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)