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China Consecrates a Second Catholic Bishop Without Vatican Approval

  • Luis Ramirez

China's state-approved Catholic church has consecrated a bishop without the approval of the Holy See. The ordination - the second in three days taken without consultation with Rome - is a setback for talks on normalization of relations between the Vatican and China's communist government.

Chinese television shows a man dressed in full Catholic regalia, giving thanks before a group of parishioners at a Catholic church in Eastern China's Anhui province.

The man is Liu Xinhong, the person the state-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association has named bishop - without the approval of or consultation with the Holy See. His consecration in the early hours of Wednesday threatens to derail the complex dialogue underway between the Vatican and China's Communist leaders.

The matter of who can appoint bishops for China's Catholics is at the heart of the dispute between the two. Traditionally, the pope appoints bishops, who owe allegiance to him. The Chinese communist authorities see such an arrangement as an interference in China's internal affairs - and a challenge to the Communist Party's absolute control.

Observers say the fact that the Chinese have come to the table in the first place is evidence of Beijing's new and growing willingness to improve ties with the Vatican.

However, in an interview with VOA, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong said he is worried that these latest ordinations, which the church considers illicit, may spoil the reconciliation process.

Cardinal Zen believes the Patriotic Association is fearful of losing its political influence if the Vatican's talks with Beijing succeed. He therefore suspects the two recent ordinations were made unilaterally by the association.

"Because they are having full power in many places, and especially at the national level, they are above the bishops. That cannot be tolerated by the [Roman] Catholic Church, and so they are going to lose their power. They are worried," said Cardinal Zen.

Earlier this week, the patriotic association consecrated another Bishop in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming. Cardinal Zen said he saw that ordination as a mere glitch in a reconciliation process that had gone slowly but, in general, smoothly. He said the second ordination dims hopes for reconciliation anytime soon.

The Chinese Communists broke ties with the Holy See in 1951 and set up the Patriotic Association as the only Catholic body recognized by the state. In effect, it became the only open and legal means for Chinese Catholics to practice their faith. Millions have since worshipped in underground churches, risking imprisonment, torture, and execution.

The Vatican currently has diplomatic relations with the government in Taipei - Beijing's rival - but says it is willing to switch its recognition to Beijing if the issue of the bishops can be resolved.

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