A diocese in central China has ordained the country's first Roman Catholic bishop in three years, amid continued repression of Chinese Christians.
Bishop Joseph Zhang Yinlin was ordained Tuesday in Henan province before about 1,400 faithful, as hundreds of police officers enforced a tight security cordon nearby, according to Catholic websites based abroad.
The ceremony was a rare recent case of Chinese officials being in alignment with the Roman Catholic leadership in a choice for the position, according to the diocese, AsiaNews and UCAnews.
The websites said the ordination took part with the Vatican's approval, possibly indicating a return to the formula under which Chinese authorities, who claim the sole right to appoint bishops, name candidates that are tacitly accepted by the Vatican.
But that unspoken arrangement appeared to have broken down amid worsening relations following the 2012 ordination of Shanghai Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, the last bishop to be installed prior to Zhang.
Ma has not been seen in public since his ordination, during which he renounced membership in the Communist Party-run Catholic association, shocking and angering officials.
But even as China and the Vatican moved forward with Bishop Zhang’s ordination, the government in China’s southeastern Zhejiang province continued to forcibly remove crosses from Christian churches, leading to protests from worshippers.
Zhejiang authorities are believed to be under a two-month deadline to remove crosses from the spires, vaults, roofs and wall arches of the 4,000 or so churches that dot the landscape of this economically thriving region.
The campaign comes one year after the provincial leadership ordered the razing of several churches and hundreds of rooftop crosses deemed to be illegal structures.
This summer, Zhejiang banned rooftop crosses altogether.
Despite criticism that the new rule violates China's constitutional right of religious freedom, local enforcers are sending demolition crews to virtually all the province's churches.
In a rare move, even China's semiofficial Christian associations, which are supposed to ensure the ruling Communist Party's control over Protestant and Catholic groups, have denounced the campaign as unconstitutional.
They have warned that it could risk turning the faithful into enemies of the party.