Vatican Says China Violated Bishops’ Pact, Demands Explanation

VATICAN CITY, Nov 26 (Reuters) – The Vatican on Saturday accused Chinese authorities of violating a bilateral pact on bishop appointments by installing a bishop in a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.

A statement said the Vatican learned with “surprise and regret” that the bishop of another district had been installed as auxiliary bishop or bishop’s assistant in Jiangxi.

The unauthorized installation appeared to be one of the most serious violations of a 2018 deal between the Vatican and Beijing on bishop appointments.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The deal, which some Catholics have denounced as a sellout to China’s Communist authorities, was last extended by two years in October. Its details are still secret.

Jiangxi will not be recognized by the Vatican as a diocese, the statement said, adding that the installation does not conform “to the spirit of dialogue” agreed to by both sides in 2018.

It said, without elaborating, that Bishop Giovanni Peng Weizhao’s inauguration followed “strong pressure from local authorities.”

AsiaNews, a Catholic news outlet, said Peng was secretly ordained bishop with papal approval in 2014, four years before the deal, and had been in prison for six months at the time.

The Vatican awaits an explanation from the Chinese authorities and hopes that “similar incidents will not be repeated,” the statement said.

The deal was an attempt to ease a long-standing rift in mainland China between a pro-pope underground crowd and a state-backed official church. For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognized the Pope as supreme head of the Catholic Church.

Critics including Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, the former Archbishop of Hong Kong, have denounced it as making too many concessions to China.

The Vatican statement came a day after a Hong Kong court found Zen and five others guilty of failing to register a now-defunct fund for pro-democracy protesters.

Only six new bishops have been appointed since the deal was struck, which opponents say proves it is not having the desired effects. They also point to increasing restrictions on religious freedom in China for Christians and other minorities.

When the deal was last renewed, Foreign Minister Cardinal Pietro Parolin, its chief architect, said that while the achievements since 2018 “may seem small,” in the context of a conflicting history, they are “important steps toward the progressive healing of the wounds” inflicted on the Chinese Church.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Singapore; Edited by Mark Heinrich and David Holmes

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