Vatican approval for new bishop

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Vatican has given its approval for the ordination of Father Joseph Li Shan as bishop of Beijing, after a last-minute effort to ensure the mainland's selected priest gained recognition by the Holy See.

The approval came as Catholics in the capital prepared for a Mass tomorrow at which Father Li will become the first mutually recognised bishop in Beijing in almost 50 years.

Last night, church sources confirmed that the Vatican had given its approval, although officials from the Holy See have made no announcement of the decision.

It has brought relief to church members, who had been concerned that the ordination could be considered 'illicit' by the Vatican - as were three cases last year - if papal approval could not be granted in time.

Father Li, who is known as a down-to-earth priest with strong pastoral experience in the diocese, was named bishop-elect by Beijing in July. However, the Vatican had difficulty contacting him, which was a condition for the approval process to proceed.

Last night, Anthony Liu Bainian , a vice-chairman of the state-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which controls the mainland's church, said he had heard about the Vatican's decision. But he stressed that there had been no official contact between Beijing and the Holy See due to a lack of diplomatic relations. He added that the Holy See's recognition of Father Li's status was a gesture of goodwill.

'I am sure this will be beneficial to improving Sino-Vatican relations,' Mr Liu added.

The Union of Catholic Asian News agency reported that several mainland bishops were invited to participate in the ordination Mass, with Bishop Fang Xingyao of Linyi as principal celebrant.

The episcopal see of Beijing is considered important and politically sensitive. The position was left vacant after the death of Michael Fu Tieshan earlier this year, a cleric who was unilaterally ordained by Beijing in 1979 without Vatican approval.