China Ordains Priests in Violation of 2020 Sino-Vatican Agreement
05/18/2021 China (International Christian Concern) – The Chinese Patriotic Catholic church, a government-run institution, recently ordained several new priests in a diocese created by the Chinese government but not recognized by the Vatican. The ordinations are a violation of the agreement signed last year between China and the Vatican regarding the administration of the Catholic church in China and the ordination of priests, an authority which was supposed to be given back to the Holy See.
At the root of the violation is the government-created diocese of Zhangjiakou on the outskirts of Beijing. The Chinese government established the Zhangjiakou diocese in 1980, but it has never been recognized by the Holy See which instead splits the same geographic area up into two dioceses—Xuanhua and Xiwanzi. Xiwanzi is led by bishop Joseph Ma Yanen, while Xuanhua’s bishop, Augustine Cui Tai, is currently being held by authorities in an unknown location.
The recent ordinations were organized by Guo Jincai, according to Asia News, an independent news organization. Guo is the vice president of the National Patriotic Association.
Simone Zhang Jianlin, the Vicar General of the Xuanhua diocese, issued a strongly worded statement condemning the ordinations and arguing that a diocese not recognized by the Holy See cannot ordain its own clergy, especially given Bishop Cui’s current imprisonment and lack of involvement in the process.
“The aforementioned ‘diocese of Zhangjiakou’ does not have legitimacy,” Zhang said in the statement. “The recent diaconal and priestly ordinations and candidates have not been previously discussed with Bishop Cui Tai… On the basis of the Code of Canon Law and the principles of the social doctrine of the Church, the present diocese does not recognize this ordination.”
The Chinese government has, for years, claimed the authority to appoint bishops in China. This has created tension between Beijing and the Vatican, which believes that this authority rightfully rests with the pope. An initial compromise between Beijing and the Vatican was reached in 2018, but it expired in 2020 before being officially renewed on October 22.
Writing for First Things in the weeks leading up to the latest agreement, Secretary Pompeo expressed his strong disapproval of the secretive agreement, which has never been publicly released. “Two years on, it’s clear that the  agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers.”
Others echoed Pompeo’s concern over the agreement and current Secretary of State Antony Blinken has largely continued in his predecessor’s footsteps regarding China, though he has not been as public in his views as Pompeo was. China has ignored the deal in the months since the renewal was signed but the Vatican has not pushed back publicly on China’s violations of the deal.
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