10 April 2023, The Tablet

China installs new bishop in Shanghai without consulting Holy See

China installs new bishop in Shanghai without consulting Holy See

File pic of Easter vigil service in Shanghai, China.

The Chinese government has unilaterally installed a new Bishop of Shanghai without consulting the Holy See, which said it “learned from media of the installation” on 4 April.  Bishop Joseph Chen Bin of Haimen was transferred to the adjacent Diocese of Shanghai by the Beijing authorities, in apparent breach of the terms of its 2018 agreement with the Vatican on episcopal appointments.

Around 200 people, including the Archbishop of Beijing, Joseph Li Shan, attended the installation ceremony in Shanghai, where a priest read out a letter from the Chinese bishops’ conference confirming the appointment, according to Agenzia Fides.  Chen Bin told attendees that he would continue “the fine tradition of patriotism and love of the Catholic Church in Shanghai” while advancing the “sinicisation of Catholicism in China”.

The diocese has been officially vacant since the death of Bishop Joseph Fan Zhongliang in 2014, but also houses Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, an auxiliary bishop ordained in 2012 with approval from both Beijing and Rome in the apparent expectation that he would automatically succeed Fan.  

Ma was arrested after he announced at his ordination that he would resign from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (the Communist Party body which supervises the official Church in China).  He remains in Shanghai under restricted ministry, although the Holy See still recognises him as an auxiliary bishop in the diocese.

Born in Qi Dong City and trained in seminaries in Shanghai and Beijing, Shen Bin served in the Diocese of Haimen and was ordained its bishop in 2010 with both a papal mandate and government approval.  He was elected president of the Chinese bishops’ conference in 2022.

Shen Bin has been a consistent advocate of reconciliation between the official and underground Churches in China, and told attendees at his installation that “the diocese belongs to us all”, a message he repeated to the 70 diocesan priests who attended the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday.

Bishops across China’s dioceses used the same occasion to remind their clergy of their shared communion. This year’s celebrations of the Easter Triduum were the first held in public since 2019, after Covid restrictions prohibited large gatherings for the past three years.

The Vatican said on 4 April it had been “informed a few days ago” of Beijing’s decision to appoint Shen Bin to Shanghai, and only learnt of the installation itself through press reports.

A statement from Matteo Bruni, the director of the Vatican press office, added: “For the time being, I have nothing to say about the Holy See’s assessment of the matter.”

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