Joseph Fan Zhongliang, underground bishop of Shanghai, dies at 97

Beijing's rejection of bishop's appointment brought new strain to relations with Rome

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 March, 2014, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 March, 2014, 3:06am


Joseph Fan Zhongliang

The underground bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Fan Zhongliang, has died at age 97 following decades of imprisonment and house arrest, Catholic groups said yesterday.

Fan died on Sunday evening at his apartment in the company of priests and lay people following a brief illness, the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation and the unofficial website reported.

The foundation said officials in Shanghai turned down a request to hold his funeral at the city's cathedral, allowing only a small service at a funeral home.

"A true giant of faith! He fought this battle for happiness his whole life," said one online tribute.

Fan was named Shanghai bishop by pope John Paul II in 2000, but was refused recognition by the Communist Party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association that oversees the church on the mainland.

Fan was immediately placed under house arrest and another priest, Aloysius Jin Luxian , was named bishop. Beijing rejects the Vatican's right to appoint bishops and the two sides have no formal ties.

The mainland has an estimated eight million to 12 million Catholics, around half of whom worship in congregations outside the control of the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Jin's successor, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, has not been seen in public since being taken into custody in 2012 after declaring his withdrawal from the association at his ordination ceremony, shocking and angering officials. He is believed to be held at Shanghai's Sheshan Seminary.

Although Beijing later rescinded Ma's appointment, the president of the Kung Foundation, Joseph Kung, said Fan's passing reinforced the need for Ma's release and return to pastoral duties, a move that would finally unite the rival congregations.

"By reinstating Bishop Ma to his rightful office, China will be taking an important step forward in honouring religious freedom, a right that is guaranteed by the Chinese constitution," Kung said in a statement.

Born in 1918, Fan was baptised a Catholic in 1932 and ordained a Jesuit priest in 1951, two years after the Communists seized power. Arrested in 1955 after party leader Mao Zedong ordered Chinese Catholics to cut all ties with the Vatican, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for counter-revolutionary crimes and forced to work at a labour camp mortuary in Qinghai province .

After finishing his sentence, Fan was assigned to teach at a school for the children of party officials. He was permitted to return to Shanghai in 1985 under Deng Xiaoping.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse