China's Catholic Church Bypasses Pope in Ordaining Another Bishop

July 14, 2011 - 6:13 AM

BEIJING (AP) - China's government-backed Catholic church ordained a bishop without the pope's approval on Thursday, overruling objections from the Holy See and an appeal to Chinese leaders.

The ordination is Beijing's third without a papal mandate in eight months, deepening a standoff between China and the Vatican over the Holy See's insistence on the pope's sole right to appoint bishops. Beijing's communist rulers see it as foreign interference.

The Rev. Joseph Huang Bingzhang "is now the bishop of Shantou. The ordination ceremony has finished," Liu Bainian, honorary president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-controlled group that runs China's Catholic churches, told The Associated Press on Thursday afternoon.

Vatican-affiliated news agency AsiaNews reported Wednesday that four bishops who had been held "for days" by government representatives would be forced to attend the ceremony in Shantou city in Guangdong province, along with four other bishops.

Beijing places tremendous pressure on priests and lay people to go along with its choice of bishops.

A papal adviser, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, took out a half-page advertisement in Wednesday's mass-market Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong to issue an "urgent appeal" to President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.

Zen urged the two leaders to restrain "rogue public servants" who are "using violence to assist scum inside the church to force bishops, priests, and followers to do things against their consciences."

The Vatican was furious over the ordinations of the Rev. Guo Jincai in Chengde city in November and the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin in Sichuan province just two weeks ago. It does not recognize them as bishops.

The head of Hong Kong's Catholic church, Bishop John Tong, wrote a letter Wednesday to parishes in the diocese, reiterating that such ordinations are "illegitimate," AsiaNews reported.

Hong Kong and Macau are the only places in China where papal authority over the Roman Catholic Church is allowed.

Beijing severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope's authority.

Faithful on the mainland are allowed to worship only with the state-sanctioned church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader but rejects his authority to appoint priests and bishops. A thriving underground following remains loyal to the Vatican.

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AP correspondent Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.