Magazine article The Christian Century

China Installs Bishops

Magazine article The Christian Century

China Installs Bishops

Article excerpt

IGNORING a challenge from China's government-controlled "patriotic" church, Pope John Paul II consecrated 12 new bishops January 6 that he said represented "the universality" of the Roman Catholic Church. The pope elevated the prelates--one of them an American, David Laurin Ricken of Pueblo, Colorado--at a solemn Epiphany mass in St. Peter's Basilica only hours after the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics installed five handpicked new bishops loyal to Beijing rather than the Vatican.

"We do these ceremonies according to the needs of our dioceses," said Liu Bainian, vice secretary of the China Patriotic Catholic Association in Beijing, according to an Associated Press report. Liu added that the church ordained bishops in a September ceremony as well.

Beijing's plans for the move came as a surprise to the Vatican when they were disclosed in early January. The church was reported to be holding secret negotiations aimed at reestablishing diplomatic ties with China. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Holy See greeted China's decision with "astonishment and disappointment," and he warned that it "places obstacles" to a rapprochement.

"The election of the new bishops is valid and legal," an announcer declared during the ceremony in Beijing's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. China, which considers religious matters an internal affair, compels the estimated 4 million Chinese still loyal to the Vatican to practice their religion underground.

John Paul made no direct reference to the new Chinese bishops, but in his homily he underlined the universality of the 1-billion-member Roman Catholic Church and the doctrine that holds that bishops chosen by the pope descend in an unbroken line of succession from Christ's apostles. John Paul has now consecrated a total of 290 archbishops and bishops since he was elected pontiff in October 1978.

In Beijing, Bishop Liu Yuanren, head of the Chinese Bishops' Conference, presided over the consecrations of a bishop of Changzhi diocese in central Shanxi province and four auxiliary bishops--for Baoding in northern Hebei province; Tangshan, also in Hebei province; Nanjing in eastern Jiangsu province; and Mindong in southeastern Fujian province. The Vatican had previously named its own apostolic administrator for Nanjing, as well as one for Suzhou.

By choosing the Feast of the Epiphany, which commemorates the arrival of the Magi at the birthplace of Jesus, to consecrate its bishops, the Chinese church presented a direct challenge to the authority of the Roman Catholic pontiff. The pope, who personally administers each of the church's seven sacraments during the course of each year, makes a practice of consecrating bishops on Epiphany. …

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