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Vatican ‘asks underground Chinese bishops to stand aside for government-backed ones’

Chinese Catholic worshippers wait to receive Communion at the Palm Sunday Mass during the Easter Holy Week at an 'underground' church near Shijiazhuang, Hebei province (Photo: Getty)

The Holy See has reportedly asked two Chinese bishops to stand aside to make way for illicitly ordained, Chinese government-backed counterparts.

A Vatican delegation asked Bishop Peter Zhuang of Shantou and Bishop Jospeh Guo Xijin of Mindong to retire or accept demotion in order to smooth relations with the Chinese government.

Asia News, the outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, reports that 88-year-old Bishop Zhuang received a letter dated 26 October asking him to resign to make way for the government-backed Bishop Huang Bingzhang.

Bishop Huang was excommunicated in 2011 after being consecrated without Vatican approval. He is also a member of the National People’s Congress, the Chinese parliament.

Asia News reports that Bishop Zhuang was escorted to Beijing, where he met Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, former president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, who told him to retire – but with the proviso that he could nominate three priests, one of whom Bishop Huang would appoint as his vicar general.

Sources said Bishop Zhuang burst into tears on hearing the demand, adding that “it was meaningless to appoint a vicar general, who is still a priest that Bishop Huang could remove him anytime.”

Cardinal Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, confirmed the situation regarding Bishop Zhuang, Asia News says.

The delegation then travelled south to Fujian province where they asked Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin on Mindong, who belongs to the underground Church, to accept demotion to coadjutor bishop under the government-backed Vincent Zhan Silu.

Bishop Guo went missing for some time last year after authorities forced him to pay a visit to the religious affairs bureau in Fuan. His absence prevented him from celebrating the diocesan Chrism Mass.

A source said that signing a document to accept demotion was one of the conditions authorities put to him before releasing him.

An underground priest in Mindong said Catholics would feel conflicted over the move. “We of course feel hard to accept but do we have the right to oppose the Vatican?” He said that he may leave the priesthood over the Vatican’s decision.