Deep In the Red. The Disappointing Balance Two Years Into the Accord with China
The signals coming from China are conflicting. But paradoxically, the frontal attack launched against the agreement by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, first with a text on “First Things” and then during his visit to Rome on October 1, could play in favor of an agreement, since Beijing – as the expert on the Chinese Church Gianni Cardinale noted in “Avvenire” – “is willing to make greater concessions with interlocutors criticized rather than blessed by Washington.”
Judging by how much freedom of religion there is in China, the agreement of September 22 2018 has not produced any positive effects. Just the opposite, according to sources like Asia News, UCA News, and Bitter Winter.
But the agreement hinged on a very limited issue, the appointment of Catholic bishops in China. And even reducing the evaluation to this measure alone, the bottom line appears unsatisfactory.
For starters, just consider that there are 135 dioceses and apostolic prefectures in China and of these, at the time the agreement was signed, those governed by a bishop were only 73. Well then, today those headed by a bishop are 74, up by only one. So with nearly as many dioceses that remain vacant, despite the fact that one of the Holy See’s objectives in signing the agreement was precisely that of filling these gaps.
Hong Kong, like Macau, is not included in this count, since its bishop can be installed by the pope with full freedom. Yet even there the appointment of the new occupant is slow in coming, for almost two years now. Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekiun, 88, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, went to Rome at the end of September to beg the pope not to choose one of Beijing’s lackeys as pastor, but Francis refused to receive him. Just as he has so far refused to say a single word in defense of the city’s autonomy, which is increasingly in danger.
Of the 74 dioceses now ruled by bishops, the only one that was vacant in 2018 and is so no longer is that of Jining, in Inner Mongolia. In all the others, what has changed over the last two years is only the proportion between the “official” bishops, meaning recognized by both Rome and Beijing, and the “underground,” recognized only by Rome but not by the Chinese authorities.
On September 22 2018 the dioceses ruled by official bishops were 56, and today they are 62. While those ruled by underground bishops were 17 and today are 12.
But what matters most is the nature of these changes.
It should be noted that in conjunction with the agreement of September 22 2018 Rome lifted the excommunication of 7 bishops unilaterally installed by the regime, assigning them the diocese in which they resided and in two cases dismissing or demoting the underground bishops already present and active there.
Evidently, the lifting of these excommunications was a precondition imposed by Beijing for the signing of the agreement. But Rome has bowed to it to the point of leaving to his fate the underground bishop of one of the dioceses assigned to the former excommunicated, that of Xiapu-Mindong. Demoted to auxiliary and guilty of disobeying the “diktats” of the regime irreconcilable with the Catholic faith, including joining a so-called “independent Church,” sixty-year-old bishop Vincent Guo Xijin has been subjected to a crescendo of reprisals, culminating in removal from his home and the complete loss of his freedom, and all this to total silence from the Holy See.
Conversely, it does not appear at all that Beijing has moved with like speed to legitimize the underground bishops, as presumably desired by Rome, much less to fill the gaps in the vacant dioceses, despite the fact that the first choice of candidates – according to what can be guessed about the secret accord – belongs to the Chinese authorities.
In the two years that have passed since the signing of the accord, only two new bishops have been appointed: Anthony Yao Shun, ordinary of the diocese of Jining, and of Stephen Yu Hongwei, coadjutor of the diocese of Hanzhong. But neither of them counts, because both sides had agreed on them well before the signing of the agreement.
With regard to the underground bishops, there are five who in the two-year period have had the recognition of the Beijing authorities, always accompanied by strong pressure to extract obedience to the regime’s imperatives. In the following order:
– on January 30 2019 Peter Jin Lugang of the diocese of Nanyang, as coadjutor and then as ordinary;
– on June 9 2020 Peter Lin Jiashan of the diocese of Fuzhou;
. on June 22 2020 Peter Li Huiyuan of the diocese of Fengxiang;
– on July 9 2020 Paul Ma Cunguo of the diocese of Shouzhou;
– on August 18 2020 Francis Xavier Jin Yangke of the diocese of Ningbo.
However, it should be noted that the first of these five government legitimations, that of Jin Lugang, had already been in the works for more than four years.
Even the legitimations of Li Huiyuan and Jin Yangke, both long-time members of the Patriotic Association, actually date back to years prior to the 2018 agreement and had been delayed only due to disagreements within the pseudo Chinese episcopal conference.
So in reality, following the accord, there are only the two remaining legitimations.
That of Lin Jiashan, 86, was strongly desired by the bishop himself, despite the opposition of a large part of his clergy and faithful, who still criticize it as an unjustified submission to the regime.
As for the recognition of Ma Cunguo, this was made official in the presence of leaders of the Patriotic Association and other organizations of political supervision, but it was carried out by the bishop with the shrewdness not to repeat in his oath the words of “adherence to the independent and self-governing Church” and of “prohibition against educating young people under the age of 18 in the faith” that the authorities would have liked to hear from him.
It should be added that Guo Xijin of the diocese of Xiapu-Mindong is not the only bishop under arrest. Augustine Cui Tai, coadjutor of the diocese of Xuanhua, and – since last August 15 – Julius Jia Zhiguo, of the diocese of Zhengding, currently share his fate.
But even more sensational is the case of the bishop of Shanghai, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, under house arrest since his ordination in 2012 and dismissed for leaving the Patriotic Association, the main instrument with which the regime regiments the Church. He wasn’t even able to win clemency with the act of public submission to which he stooped in 2015, met with the applause – also useless – of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” which called his gesture an exemplary model of “reconciliation between the Church in China and the Chinese government.”
For the sake of these bishops’ freedom neither the Holy See nor the pope has ever put in so much as a word in public, before or after the 2018 accord. Not to mention the mystery that still surrounds the disappearance of two other bishops, who may not even be alive anymore: James Su Zhumin of the diocese of Baoding, who would be 88 today, and Cosmas Shi Enxiang of the diocese of Yixian, who would be 98. Nothing more has been heard from the former since 1996, the date of his last arrest, or from the latter since 2001.
But that’s not all. Remaining unchanged, after the 2018 accord, are also the hierarchies of the two key bodies through which the regime dominates the Chinese Church. With the seven formerly excommunicated bishops in prominent positions.
One of these bodies is the Council of Bishops, a false simulacrum of an episcopal conference, from which bishops recognized only by Rome are excluded.
This is responsible, according to the agreement, for proposing to the pope the names of future bishops, following a rigged “election” of these same in the respective dioceses, by representatives – hand in glove with the regime – of the clergy, religious, and lay people.
At the head of this Council of Bishops are three of the formerly excommunicated: Joseph Ma Yinglin of the diocese of Kunming as president, Joseph Guo Jincai of the diocese of Chengde as vice-president and secretary general, and Vincent Zhan Silu of the diocese of Xiapu-Mindong as second vice-president.
In addition, eight other bishops are vice-presidents of this body, all naturally with the stamp of the Chinese authorities: Joseph Li Shan of the diocese of Beijing, John Fang Xingyao of the diocese of Linyi, Joseph Shen Bin of the diocese of Haimen, Peter Fang Jianping of the diocese of Tangshan, Paul Pei Junmin of the diocese of Liaoning, John Baptist Yang Xiaoting of the diocese of Yulin, Paul He Zeqing of the diocese of Wanzhou, Joseph Yang Yongqiang of the diocese of Zhoucun.
The other body is the aforementioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Its president is Bishop John Fang Xingyao of the diocese of Linyi, while among the vice-presidents are four of the formerly excommunicated bishops: Joseph Ma Yinglin of the diocese of Kunming – the same who presides over the Council of Bishops – Paul Lei Shiyin of the diocese of Leshan, Joseph Huang Bingzhang of the diocese of Shantou, and Joseph Yue Fusheng of the diocese of Harbin-Heilongjiang.
The vice-president and secretary general of the association is the layman Liu Yuandong, while four other vice-presidencies are entrusted to the bishops Joseph Shen Bin of the diocese of Haimen and Paul Meng Qinglu of the diocese of Hohhot, to the religious sister Wu Lin, and to the laywoman Shi Xueqin.
Having said this, what then is the organigram of the bishops in China, official and underground, updated to the present, without counting the emeritus and retired?
Here is the complete list by categories, with names, year of birth, and diocese .
1. “OFFICIAL” BISHOPS (RECOGNIZED BY BOTH ROME AND BEIJING)
Vincent Zhan Silu, b. 1961, Xiapu-Mindong
Joseph Huang Bingzhang, b. 1967, Shantou
Joseph Liu Xinhong, b. b1964, Anhui
Paul Lei Shiyin, b. 1963, Leshan
Joseph Ma Yinglin, b. 1965, Kunming
Joseph Guo Jincai, b. 1968, Chengde
Joseph Yue Fusheng, b. 1964, Harbin-Heilongjiang
Joseph Li Shan, b. 1965, Beijing
Francis An Shuxin, b. 1949, Baoding
Peter Feng Xinmao, b. 1963, Jingxian
Joseph Liu Liangui, b. 1964, Xianxian-Cangzhou
Joseph Sun Jigen, b. 1967, Yongnian-Handan
Peter Fang Jianping, b. 1962, Yongping-Tangshan
Methodius Qu Ailin, b. 1961, Changsha
Joseph Tang Yuange, b. 1963, Chengdu
Joseph Chen Gong’ao, b. 1964, Nanchong
Paul He Zeqing, b. 1968, Wanxian-Wanzhou
John Lei Jiaipei, b. 1970, Xichang
Peter Luo Xuegang, b. 1964, Yibin
Joseph Cai Bingrui, b. 1966, Xiamen
Joseph Gan Junqiu, b. 1964, Guangzhou
Paul Su Yongda, b. 1958, Beihai-Zhanjiang
Paul Liang Jiansen, b. 1964, Jiangmen
Joseph Liao Hongqing, b. 1965, Meixian-Meizhou
Paul Xiao Zejiang, b. 1967, Guiyang-Guizhou
Matthew Cao Xiangde, b. 1927, Hangzhou
Paul Meng Qinglu, b. 1962, Hohhot
Joseph Li Jing, b. 1968, Yinchuan-Ningxia
Matthias Du Jiang, b. 1963, Bameng
Joseph Zhang Xianwang, b. 1965, Jinan
John Fang Xingyao, b. 1953, Linyi
Joseph Zhao Fengchang, b. 1934, Yanggu-Liaocheng
John Lu Peisan, b. 1966, Yanzhou
Joseph Yang Yongqiang, b. 1970, Zhoucun
Joseph Zhang Yinlin, b. 1971, Jixian-Anyang
Joseph Han Zhihai, b. 1966, Lanzhou
Nicholas Han Jide, b. 1940, Pingliang
John Baptist Li Sugong, b. 1964, Nanchang-Jiangxi
Francis Xavier Lu Xinping, b. 1963, Nanjing
Joseph Shen Bin, b. 1970, Haimen
Joseph Xu Honggen, b. 1962, Suzhou
John Wang Renlei, b. 1970, Xuzhou
John Baptist Tan Yanquan, b. 1962, Nanning-Guanxi
Paul Pei Junmin, b. 1969, Shenyang-Liaoning
Paul Meng Ningyu, b. 1963, Taiyuan
Peter Ding Lingbin, b. 1962, Changzhi
John Huo Cheng, b. 1926, Fenyang
Anthony Dan Mingyan, b. 1967, Xi’an
Peter Li Huiyuan, b. 1965, Fengxiang
Louis Yu Runshen, b. 1930, Hanzhong
Joseph Han Yingjin, b. 1958, Sanyuan
John Baptist Yang Xiaoting, b. 1964, Yan’an-Yulin
Joseph Martin Wu Qinjing, b. 1968, Zhouzhi
John Baptist Ye Ronghua, b. 1931, Ankang
John Baptist Wang Xiaoxun, b. 1966, Ankang coadjutor
Joseph Tong Changping, b. 1968, Tongzhou-Weinan
Peter Wu Junwei, b. 1963, Xinjiang-Yuncheng
Stephen Yu Hongwei, b. 1975, Hanzhong coadjutor
Anthony Yao Shun, b. 1965, Jining
Peter Jin Lugang, b. 1955, Nanyang
Peter Lin Jiashan, b. 1934, Fuzhou
Peter Li Huiyuan, b. 1965, Fengxiang
Paul Ma Cunguo, b. 1971, Shuoxian-Shouzhou
Francis Xavier Jin Yangke, b. 1958, Ningbo
2. “UNDERGROUND” BISHOPS (RECOGNIZED BY ROME BUT NOT BY BEIJING)
Thaddeus Ma Daqin, b. 1968, Shanghai, dismissed and under arrest
Vincent Guo Xijin, b. 1958, Xiapu-Mindong auxiliary, under surveillance
Thomas Zhao Kexun, b. 1924, Xuanhua
Augustine Cui Tai, b. 1950, Xuanhua coadjutor, under arrest
Julius Jia Zhiguo, b. 1935, Zhengding, under arrest
Joseph Hou Guoyang, b. 1922, Chongqing
John Baptist Wang Ruohan, b. 1950, Kangding
Peter Shao Zhumin, b. 1963, Yongjia-Wenzhou
Joseph Gao Hongxiao, b. 1945, Kaifeng
John Wang Ruowang, b. 1961, Tianshui
John Pei Weizhao, b. 1966, Yujiang
Andrew Han Jingtao, b. 1921, Siping-Jilin
Joseph Wej Jingyi, b. 1958, Qiqihar-Heilongjiang
Joseph Zhang Weizhu, b. 1958, Xinxiang