07 February 2024, The Tablet

New bishops confirmed under Vatican-China deal terms

There have now been nine episcopal appointments under the terms of the agreement.

New bishops confirmed under Vatican-China deal terms

The consecration of Anthony Sun Venjun as Bishop of the newly-formed Diocese of Weifang.
Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association / CNA

Three new bishops were ordained in China in January under “the framework of the provisional agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China”.

The Vatican announced on 25 January that Fr Taddeo Wang Yuesheng had been consecrated Bishop of Zhengzhou that day.

On 31 January, it announced the consecration of Fr Peter Wu Yishun as bishop of the apostolic prefecture of Shaowu by Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, president of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

It said Pope Francis had made both appointments on 16 December last year. Neither jurisdiction had been occupied for decades – since the 1960s and 1980s respectively.

Meanwhile, the Vatican also announced the consecration of Bishop Anthony Sun Venjun of the newly-formed Diocese of Weifang on 29 January.

It said the formation of this new jurisdiction – corresponding to the city of Weifang, with a population of 6,000 Catholics served by 10 priests and six religious sisters – had been decided on 20 April 2023, along with Sun’s appointment.

Commentators noted that this was a few weeks after the Chinese authorities’ appointment of Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen as the new Bishop of Shanghai without the Vatican’s knowledge or approval

While the terms of the 2018 agreement between Beijing and the Holy See remain secret, this was understood to have broken with Rome’s understanding of the deal. The Vatican did, however, confirm Shen’s appointment three months later “in view of the greater good of the diocese and the fruitful exercise of the bishop’s pastoral ministry”.

Last month’s appointments indicate the agreement’s survival ahead of biannual renewal negotiations later this year

There have now been nine episcopal appointments under the terms of the agreement, which also saw the Vatican recognise several bishops previously installed without a papal mandate.

Prof Paul Mariani SJ, a historian of the Church in Communist China at Santa Clara University, said that the Chinese government was “in the driver’s seat” for all discussions of episcopal appointments and diocesan boundaries, because “you should never underestimate the amount of control the [Chinese Communist Party] has over the Church”.

He told The Tablet that the Chinese hierarchy established in 1946 was too large for the current Catholic population and was being rationalised according to the 2018 agreement, but he warned that the authorities “are going to use it in a very political way”. 

Church sources in China told the US-based site The Pillar that the new territory of Weifang had been proposed by Beijing and accepted by Rome.

Prof Mariani explained that the Chinese government expected to control religious life like every other part of civil society.

“The CCP makes every effort to control the life of the Church in China,” he said. “If the Vatican sees fit to sign off on this project, then all the better for the party.”

  Loading ...
Get Instant Access
Subscribe to The Tablet for just £7.99

Subscribe today to take advantage of our introductory offers and enjoy 30 days' access for just £7.99