Chinese bishops: arrests, controls and new ‘illegitimates’, the suffering of which Francis speaks

Even among the 67 officially recognized by the Beijing authorities, a dozen are under close surveillance, and there are 13 “subwayers” detained or limited in their ministry. But in the current confused climate there are also some fifteen Chinese priests who have proclaimed themselves bishops, defying both civil and ecclesiastical authorities.

Milan () – On the day of prayer to Mary Help of Christians, who is venerated in Sheshan, the Shanghai sanctuary, dedicated to praying for the Church in China, Pope Francis yesterday addressed a special thought to “those who suffer, pastors and faithful”, inviting them to raise their prayer to God “so that the Good News of Christ crucified and risen may be proclaimed in its fullness, beauty and freedom” in China.

Reflecting on these words, one might think that on this day of prayer the Virgin’s eyes were especially attentive to the situation of the bishops in China, which, from a human point of view, seems quite worrying.

There are currently 67 official bishops: a small number if we take into account that a third of the dioceses remain vacant despite the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic that was signed in 2018 and renewed for the second time last October. . Even among the bishops also recognized by the PRC, it turns out that at least a dozen are supervised or manipulated by civil authorities. In addition, there are 13 other unofficial bishops (belonging, therefore, to underground communities, commonly called clandestine) who are kept under surveillance and whose activities are highly restricted. Four other non-official bishops find themselves in even more precarious special situations: among them, Mons. Giacomo Su Zhimin, Bishop of Baoding, who has not been heard from for many years, to the point that some say that he died in prison. Finally, we must add to the list another eight bishops defined as “irregular”, who can exercise their ministry as simple priests (although one of them, a centenarian, has probably died).

However, to the confusion and suffering are added some situations of another type. For example, a video recently circulated on Wechat, including in Hong Kong, showing seven priests in a private setting, one with miter and crosier, another with mass vestments, and all wearing cassock, stole, and episcopal skullcap: They claim to be bishops, but they are for all intents and purposes “illegitimate bishops.” Apparently, the initiative came from Paul Wang Huiyao, from Zhouzhi, and Zhang Tongli, attached to the diocese of Shanghai, who are excommunicated. While Zhang Tongli’s episcopal ordination was never recognized by the Holy See because he obtained it through fraud, the Reverend Wang Huiyao belonged to the number of “irregular bishops”, who could only act as priests.

Their exercise of episcopal functions required the intervention of the Holy See, which removed them from the clerical state in 2021. However, it seems that they continued to act as bishops, by autonomous decision and in defiance of civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Some think that the video is the recording of a recent episcopal ordination. But in reality, rumors and photos of private episcopal ordinations by the aforementioned Zhang Tongli and Wang Huiyao had been circulating since 2021, to the point that required the intervention of the Holy See.

In addition to this initiative, that of Dong Guanhua, from Zhengding, who in 2016 stated that he had been ordained a bishop in 2005, and for his part, had also ordained other new bishops, had also previously been registered. His bishop suspended him to divinea measure that was later confirmed by the Holy See.

Recently, some other priests proclaimed themselves bishops, which gave rise to a list of about fifteen names of “illegitimate bishops”: this phenomenon is favored by the general situation of confusion and ambiguity in the Church. The civil authorities are concerned, since a similar phenomenon also occurs in other religious denominations.

May the Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, direct her compassionate gaze on this situation and strengthen the trust in Jesus of the Chinese priests and faithful.



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