Francisco has decided to correct “for the good of the diocese” the irregularity created with the transfer of Msgr. Shen bin. Cardinal Parolin explained the reasons for the appointment and the conditions required to continue the dialogue: no more transfers decided by Beijing autonomously, regular channels of communication between the bishops and the Pope, and respect for clandestine communities. And he expressed the hope of opening a stable representation of the Holy See in China.
Vatican City () – A hundred days after the break as a result of the transfer ordered autonomously by Beijing in early April, Pope Francis has decided to accept the appointment as Bishop of Shanghai of Msgr. Joseph Shen Bin, 53 years old , former Bishop of Haimen. But he did it by accompanying the measure with a official interview with vatican media of the Secretary of State, Card. Pietro Parolin, in which he explains that the April provision was a violation of the “spirit of dialogue” on which the Provisional Agreement on the appointment of bishops is based, signed by the Holy See and Beijing in 2018 and renewed for the second time time in October 2022. There he makes it clear that with the appointment of Shen Bin as bishop of Shanghai “Francis has decided to correct the canonical irregularity, in view of the greater good of the diocese and the fruitful exercise of the bishop’s pastoral ministry”, which In this way, he will be able to “work with greater serenity to promote evangelization and favor ecclesial communion.” Parolin adds that the Vatican is now asking Shen Bin to work together with the Chinese authorities to “favor a fair and wise solution to some other issues that have been pending for a long time in the diocese, such as, for example, the position of the two auxiliary bishops, Msgr. Tadeo Ma Daqin, who is still disabled, and Msgr. Joseph Xing Wenzhi, who has been removed”.
As will be recalled, Bishop Tadeo Ma Daquin is the auxiliary bishop of Shanghai who has been de facto confined to the Sheshan seminary since 2012 because he publicly refused to become a member of the Patriotic Association, the body through which the Communist Party China controls the “official” priests and bishops. Archbishop Joseph Xing Wenzhi is another Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai, also appointed with the agreement of the Holy See, who was ousted the previous year for reasons that have never been made clear.
In addition to explaining the reasons for Pope Francis’ decision, the interview with Card. Parolin offers a very clear perspective of the difficulties that the Agreement between Beijing and the Holy See is going through and of the steps that the Vatican now considers essential for the dialogue to continue. Since September 8, 2021, no consensual appointment has been made, despite the fact that a third of Chinese dioceses do not have a bishop. The Vatican Secretary of State recalls that the Agreement “revolves around the fundamental principle of the consensuality of decisions regarding the bishops”, a point that the Holy See “is trying to clarify, in an open dialogue and a respectful confrontation with the Chinese counterpart. “It is essential – he declares – that all episcopal appointments in China, including transfers, be made by consensus, as agreed, and keeping alive the spirit of dialogue between the parties. We must together prevent situations of discord that create disagreements and misunderstandings even within Catholic communities, and the good application of the Agreement is one of the means to do this, along with sincere dialogue.”
In the interview, Cardinal Parolin expressly cites “three open questions in the Church in China: the Episcopal Conference, the communication of the Chinese bishops with the Pope, evangelization.” He explains that the Holy See “wants to see the responsibility of the bishops in leading the Church in China grow, and for this it is necessary that an Episcopal Conference with Statutes appropriate to its ecclesial nature and its pastoral mission be recognized as soon as possible” (the The current Council of Chinese Bishops, chaired by Monsignor Shen Bin and strictly controlled by the Party, is not recognized by the Vatican, although it is mentioned in the profile of the new bishop of Shanghai published today on the Holy See website ed).
The Vatican Secretary of State insists that “regular communication between the Chinese bishops and the Bishop of Rome is essential for effective communion: it belongs to the structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church, which the Chinese authorities have always said they do not want alter”. Parolin explained to Beijing that “Chinese Catholics, even those who call themselves ‘underground’, deserve trust, because they sincerely want to be loyal citizens and to be respected in their conscience and in their faith.” That is why he asks the Chinese authorities to “overcome the mistrust of Catholicism, which is not a religion that can be considered alien – much less contrary – to Chinese culture.”
Cardinal Parolin affirms that he is aware of the “obstacles” that “undermine confidence and detract from positive energies”, but reiterates that “dialogue between the Vatican and the Chinese side remains open and I believe that it is a somewhat obligatory path”. To make it more fluid, he expressly requests “the opening of a stable liaison office of the Holy See in China”, which would not only favor “dialogue with the civil authorities, but would also contribute to full reconciliation within the Chinese Church and his path towards a desirable normality”.
“We have signed an Agreement that can be defined as historic -concludes the Secretary of State- but it must be applied in its entirety and in the most correct way possible. Today we need the goodwill, consensus and collaboration that allowed us to sign this far-reaching pact. The Holy See is determined to do its part so that the journey continues.”