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Religion in China

Second Chinese underground Catholic bishop steps aside to be succeeded by party-approved clergyman

  • Huang Bingzhang completes his rehabilitation after 2011 excommunication
  • Catholic Church and Communist Party continue rapprochement process
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 4:45pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 December, 2018, 11:01pm

A second bishop from China’s underground Catholic church is stepping down to be replaced by a government-approved cleric, state-run media reported, as relations between Beijing and Rome improve.

There are an estimated 10 million Catholics in China, divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party and the unofficial church loyal to the Vatican.

An agreement struck in September on the appointment of bishops has paved the way for rapprochement between China and the Vatican, who cut diplomatic ties in 1951.

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Zhuang Jianjian, bishop of the Shantou diocese in Guangdong province, will retire and be succeeded by Huang Bingzhang, deputy chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Global Times reported.

A Vatican-issued mandate was given to Huang last week by a delegation that met several Chinese bishops, the state-linked paper reported.

“The mission now is to unite Catholics in the diocese and reduce divergence so as to achieve the common goal of better serving church members,” Huang, 51, told the Global Times.

“This doesn’t come as a surprise because Zhuang Jianjian is already 88, so he would have wanted to retire more than a decade ago,” said Anthony Lam, a Chinese Catholic church expert at Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre.

According to canon law that governs the Catholic Church, bishops “are requested” to submit their resignation at the age of 75.

The pope can either approve the resignation or request that they wait for a suitable successor to emerge, Lam said.

“The agreement between China and the Vatican has solved this problem because the seven bishops previously excommunicated have been restored to the church, so Huang Bingzhang will be able to take up the position.”

Huang was excommunicated in 2011 for being ordained as a bishop without papal approval.

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This is a different situation from that of underground bishop Guo Xijin, who was last week asked to step aside in eastern Fujian province to make way for government-approved clergy, Lam said.

Guo instead will serve as auxiliary bishop – who assists and works alongside the diocesan bishop – while both the underground and official churches of the diocese will merge.

He was at the centre of last week’s negotiations between China and the Vatican, which have been asking him to leave his post since 2017 to allow for talks aimed at settling their differences.

Separately, the official church said it is facing a shortage of bishops and called for “politically reliable” clergymen with “good ethics”, the Global Times reported on Wednesday.

Nearly half of China’s 98 dioceses have no leaders, chairman of the China’s Bishops Conference Ma Yinglin told a seminar, according to the paper.