Sandro Magister reports from Rome for L’Espresso — Next September 22, when it turns two, the secret accord signed in 2018 between the Holy See and China on the appointment of bishops “will expire.” So said on June 7 the archbishop and diplomat Claudio Maria Celli, a longtime protagonist of contacts between the two sides.
And he added:
“I think we should probably reconfirm it for one or two years, but the Holy See has not yet made a decision in this regard, which will then be communicated to the Chinese authorities.”
Celli acknowledged that the negotiation “is not an easy path,” since there are “still snags” and “situations that are more than thought-provoking, I would say worrisome.”
In effect, almost two years after the signing of the accord, for the Holy See the bottom line is a disaster.
Not counting Hong Kong and Macao, which have separate statutes, there are 135 dioceses and apostolic prefectures in China. And of these, at the time the agreement was signed, only 72 were under the leadership of a bishop, just over half.
Today those with a bishop at their head are still holding steady at 72. So with almost as many dioceses that continue to remain vacant, even though one of the Holy See’s aims in signing the agreement was precisely to fill these gaps.
The only two new episcopal ordinations that have taken place after September 22 2018 – those of Anthony Yao Shun, ordinary of the diocese of Jining, and Stephen Xu Hongwei, coadjutor of the diocese of Hanzhong – are both from April 2019 and had been arranged before the signing of the agreement.
But it is instructive to analyze in greater detail the changes that have occurred in the past two years.
Heading into the signing of the accord, 50 Chinese dioceses were governed by “official” bishops, meaning recognized by both Rome and Beijing, and 17 by “clandestine” bishops, meaning recognized by Rome but not by the Chinese government.
In addition, however, there were 7 bishops hit with excommunication, 5 of whom had been installed by the regime in as many dioceses deemed by Rome still vacant, and 2 instead installed in dioceses already run by bishops who are legitimate in the eyes of Rome but clandestine according to the Chinese authorities.
So then, upon the signing of the agreement Pope Francis lifted the excommunication of those 7 bishops and assigned to each of them the governance of their diocese of residence. Also in the two dioceses where there were already legitimate but clandestine bishops, the solution adopted by Rome was to entrust the governance to the two formerly excommunicated bishops. To make this possible the 90-year-old bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian was removed from the diocese of Shantou, while in the diocese of Xiapu-Mindong the 60-year-old bishop in office, Vincent Guo Xijin, was demoted to auxiliary.
In both cases the transfer of power has been rough, and in the second it is still far from being smoothed over. Bishop Guo’s courageous refusal to bow to the regime’s “diktats” irreconcilable with the Catholic faith, which include signing up for a so-called “independent Church,” has come at the expense of a hailstorm of retaliation, expulsion from his home, and the complete loss of his freedom.
In the judgment of the most ardent Vatican supporters of the accord – expressed by Professor Agostino Giovagnoli of the Community of Sant’Egidio and “Fides” agency director Gianni Valente – the diocese of Xiapu-Mindong was to be the model diocese, the one that was supposed to teach the world about the goodness of the agreement between the pope and China.
Instead, it is precisely the example of the continual one-sided giving in of the Holy See, without the slightest reciprocation from Beijing.
Mention has already been made of the immediate revocation by the pope of the excommunication of the 7 bishops most enthralled to the regime. But vice versa, it does not appear at all that Beijing has moved as swiftly to legitimize the clandestine bishops.
These latter, at the time of the signing of the agreement, governed 17 dioceses, while today they govern 12. But in the meantime the Chinese authorities have given their approval to only two of them: Peter Jin Lugang, 65, of the diocese of Nanyang , and Peter Lin Jiashan, 86, of the diocese of Fuzhou. The latter’s advanced age is not an isolated case. Among the clandestine bishops still in office, four more are over the age of 80, and another died in 2019 at the age of 92. Some are counting on them going extinct through natural causes.
As for the rest, they are certainly not being treated well. Mention has been made of Bishop Guo of the diocese of Xiapu-Mindong, demoted to auxiliary and placed under surveillance. Augstine Cui Tai, coadjutor of the diocese of Xuanhua, has been under arrest since 2014. And Thaddeus Ma Daqin, bishop of Shanghai, has also been under house arrest since the day of his ordination in 2012, dismissed for quitting the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the instrument with which the regime controls and regiments the Church. He wasn’t able to obtain clemency even with the act of public submission to which he bowed in 2015, amid 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 calling for these bishops to be set free, the Holy See or the pope has never expended so much as a word in public. Not to mention the mystery that still surrounds the disappearance of two other bishops who may not even be alive anymore: James Su Zhimin of the diocese of Baoding, who would be 88 today, and Cosmas Shi Enxiang of the diocese of Yixian, who would be 98 years old. Nothing has been heard of the former since 1996, the date of his last arrest, or of 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 that, what then is the head count of the bishops in China, brought up to today’s date?
Below is a complete list of them by categories, with names, birth years, and respective dioceses.
For a comparison with the list of bishops heading into the accord between the Holy See and China, just go back to this Settimo Cielo post from two years ago, based on Vatican sources effectively rearranged by Gianni Cardinale in the book “Bishops in the land of Confucius”:
> Chinese Bishops Illegitimate, Official, Clandestine… Which Ones Francis Is Rewarding and Which He Is Not
That previous list was dated February 5, 2018, but was still valid the following September 22, the date of the accord, with the only change being the passing of a bishop who died on June 15 of that same year at the age of 94, Joseph Li Mingshu of the diocese of Qingdao.
- “OFFICIAL” BISHOPS (RECOGNIZED BY BOTH ROME AND BEIJING)
Vincent Zhan Silu, n. 1961, Xiapu-Mindong
Giuseppe Huang Bingzhang, n. 1967, Shantou
Giuseppe Liu Xinhong, n. 1964, Anhui
Paolo Lei Shiyin, n. 1963, Leshan
Goseph Ma Yinglin, b. 1965, Kunming
Joseph Guo Jincai, b. 1968, Chengde
Joseph Yue Fusheng, b. 1964, Harbin-Heilongjiang
Jospeh 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
Paul Ma Cunguo, b. 1971, Shuoxian-Shouzhou
Anthony Dan Mingyan, b. 1967, Xi’an
Peter Li Huiyuan, b. 1965, Fengxiang
Louis Yu Runchen, b. 1930, Hanzhong
Stephen Yu Hongwei, b. 1975, coadjutor Hanzhong
Anthony Yao Shun, b. 1965, Jining
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, coadjutor Ankang
Joseph Tong Changping, b. 1968, Tongzhou-Weinan
Peter Wu Junwei, b. 1963, Xinjiang-Yuncheng
Peter Lin Jiashan, b. 1934, Fuzhou
Peter Jin Lugang, b. 1955, Nanyang
2. “CLANDESTINE” BISHOPS (RECOGNIZED BY ROME BUT NOT BY BEIJING)
Vincent Guo Xijin, n. 1958, auxiliary Xiapu-Mindong, under surveillance
Thomas Zhao Kexun, b. 1924, Xuanhua
Augustine Cui Tai, b. 1950, coadjutor Xuanhua, under arrest
Julius Jia Zhiguo, b. 1935, Zhengding
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
Thaddeus Ma Daqin, b. 1968, Shanghai, dismissed and arrested
3. “OFFICIAL” BISHOPS EMERITUS
Stephen Yang Xiangtai, b. 1922, emeritus Yongnian
Peter Zhang Zhiyong, b. 1932, emeritus Fengxiang
Joseph Zhong Huaide, b. 1922, emeritus Sanyuan
- “CLANDESTINE” BISHOPS EMERITUS OR RETIRED
Peter Zhuang Jianjian, b. 1931, emeritus Shantou
Melchior Shi Hongzhen, b. 1929, emeritus coadjutor Tianjin
Joseph Shi Shuang-xi, b. 1967, emeritus auxiliary Yongnian
Placidus Pei Ronggui, b. 1933, emeritus Luoyang
Peter Mao Qingfu, b. 1963, retired, Luoyang
Joseph Xing Wenzhi, b. 1963, emeritus auxiliary Shanghai
Matthias Gu Zheng, b. 1937, emeritus Xining
John Zhang Qingtian, b. 1956, emeritus auxiliary Yixian
John Chen Cangbao, b. 1959, retired, Yixian
5. DISAPPEARED BISHOPS
James Su Zhimin, b. 1932, Baoding, smissing since 1966
Cosmas Shi Enxiang, b. 1922, Yixian, missing since 2001
Finally, there is the case of a bishop illegitimate bishop for both Rome and Beijing: Paul Wang Huiyao, born in 1959 and active in the diocese of Zhouzhi, where there is already an “official” bishop.