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SHANGHAI (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Chinese Communist Party has unilaterally appointed a bishop from its own ranks to the See of Shanghai in violation of its secret concordat with the Vatican.
In his installation ceremony on Tuesday, Bp. Joseph Shen Bin did not mention Pope Francis. Instead, he promised to press ahead with the sinicization of Catholicism and continue the tradition of "patriotism and love" for the Church in Shanghai.
The sudden move to unilaterally install Shen Bin, who is currently bishop of Haimen, has shocked the Vatican, which admitted on its official news website that it had learned of the appointment from media reports.
"The Holy See had been informed a few days ago of the decision of the Chinese authorities" to transfer the bishop from the diocese of Haimen, but it only "learned from the media of the installation this morning," said Matteo Bruni, director of the Holy See Press Office.
"For the moment, I have nothing to say about the Holy See's assessment of the matter," Bruni added.
Asia News reported that Shen Bin was appointed to lead the diocese of Shanghai by the Council of Chinese Bishops, the CCP-sanctioned bishops' conference, which he himself heads.
In 2017, Shen Bin was elected vice president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. According to Andrew Tsien, former bishop of Hualien, Taiwan, the objectives of the CCPA are "to substitute it for the true Roman Catholic church" and "to eliminate religion in order to achieve a pure materialistic and autocratic society."
In his 2007 letter to Catholics in China, Pope Benedict XVI declared that the association was "incompatible" with Catholic doctrine.
The bishopric of Shanghai had been vacant for 10 years since the death of Jesuit bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian in April 2013.
The Holy See had asked for Shanghai's auxiliary bishop, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, to administer the diocese, but Ma Daquin has been under house arrest since 2012 for daring to resign from the CCPA immediately after his episcopal ordination.
On July 7, 2012, Ma Daqin was ordained with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI and the People's Republic of China. At his episcopal ordination, he announced, "It is inconvenient for me to serve the CCPA post from now on."
In Nov. 2022, the Vatican protested the CCP's appointment of Bp. John Peng Weizhao as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi — a diocese created by the CCP without Vatican approval, Church Militant reported.
The Holy See Press Office noted the Vatican's "surprise and regret" at the "installation ceremony" and explained that this event "has not taken place in conformity with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican parties and the Chinese parties" agreed "in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops of 22 September 2018."
"The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated," the statement added, and it "is awaiting the appropriate communication about the matter from the authorities" and reaffirming "its complete willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all of the matters of common interest."
Born in 1970 into a Catholic family, Shen Bin studied at the National Seminary in Beijing and was ordained a priest in 1996. With a pontifical mandate and recognition of the political authorities, his episcopal ordination took place in the cathedral of Nantong on April 21, 2010.
In a 2017 interview, Shen Bin insisted that Chinese Catholics had full freedom to "publicly pray for the pope" and "even sing hymns for the pope, which were not in use in China for a long time."
"We follow his magisterium. In WeChat groups, we publish and share the homilies from Santa Marta every day, the Wednesday's general papal Audiences (Papal Catechesis), and we report the pope's words in our own homilies," Shen Bin said.
The bishop, however, admitted that "it is convenient not to oppose the government, and sometimes we have to (it is convenient to) distinguish between ecclesial matters, matters of faith on one side, and economic and administrative issues, which in itself do not affect the deposition of faith, on another side."
"The gospel does not ask us to assume the role of antagonists of the constituted authorities. And Jesus says we must be smart as snakes and simple as doves. I believe that now, in China, dialogue and reconciliation are the most important things. Also with the government," Shen Bin said.
Until recently, Pope Francis repeatedly affirmed that the Vatican–China deal "is good" and fruitful. He added that renewing it twice in 2020 and 2022 was the right thing to do.
In September, Francis defended the secret deal, saying an uneasy dialogue is better than no dialogue at all.
"You can be deceived in dialogue; you can make mistakes, all that, but it is the way. Closed-mindedness is never the way," the pope told Spanish radio network COPE.
Since the 2018 deal was struck between the Vatican and China, only six new bishops have been appointed.
In July 2021, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cdl. Pietro Parolin, refused to confirm or deny reports that the gay cruising app Grindr may have been used to blackmail the Holy See into its secret deal with China.