Vatican says China unilaterally appointed bishop in Shanghai

The Vatican said Chinese authorities had appointed a new bishop for Shanghai, China’s largest Roman Catholic diocese, in apparent violation of a bilateral pact between the two states.

The Holy See was informed “a few days ago” of China’s decision to transfer Bishop Shen Bin from Haimen, Jiangsu province, to the diocese of Shanghai, the Vatican announced on Tuesday.

He added that he learned of his official installation from the media earlier in the day.

“For now, I have nothing to say about the Holy See’s assessment of the case,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The announcement came just four months after the Vatican accused China of violating its bilateral agreement on the appointment of bishops by installing one in a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.

The secret and disputed pact was renewed last October for the second time since 2018.

The deal was an attempt to bridge a long-standing rift in mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and an official state-backed church.

For the first time since the 1950s, both parties recognized the pope as supreme head of the Roman Catholic Church.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese Embassy in Rome to the Vatican’s statement on Tuesday.

Not recognized by the Vatican

According to AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency, Shen was nominated by the Chinese Council of Bishops, which he himself leads.

It is not recognized by the Vatican and controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

On its website, the Shanghai Diocese said about 200 people attended Shen’s inauguration ceremony.

“Bishop Shen Bin said he will continue the fine tradition of patriotism and love for the Catholic Church in Shanghai. [and] adhere to the principle of independence and autonomy,” the statement read.

The diocese of Shanghai has been vacant for ten years since the death of the late Bishop Jin Luxian in April 2013.

The Holy See has said the city’s Auxiliary Bishop Ma Daqin should lead the diocese, but he has been under house arrest since 2012 when he publicly denounced the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association – the communist governing body the local church.

Only six new bishops have been appointed since the 2018 agreement between the Vatican and China. Critics have said this proves it is not producing the intended effects. They also pointed to the growing restrictions on religious freedom in China for Christians and other minorities.

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