China’s Underground Bishops Losing Power Under Vatican Deal

by David Nussman  •  •  December 14, 2018   

Vatican-China accord is going into effect as underground bishops yield to government-appointed bishops

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BEIJING ( - Faithful underground bishops in China are resigning in obedience to the Vatican so government-approved bishops can take their place.

In China, there is an "underground" Catholic Church headed by secretive Vatican-approved bishops as well as a "patriotic" Church with illicit bishops appointed by Communist authorities.

The Vatican worked with the Chinese government earlier this year on an arrangement to reconcile the underground Church with the government-approved Church, and a provisional agreement was signed in September. The state-sponsored Patriotic Catholic Association acts as kingmaker in the Church in China, picking the bishops and ensuring that Catholics are more loyal to the Communist state than they are to Catholicism itself.

Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, acting as a special envoy from the Vatican, came to Beijing and met with an underground bishop and a government-appointed bishop on Wednesday. At the meeting, the underground bishop of the diocese of Mindong, Vincenzo Guo Xijin, stepped down to allow the Communist-appointed Bp. Vincenzo Zhan Silu to assume control.

Archbishop Celli presented Guo a letter from Vatican officials asking for him to resign from his role as ordinary of the diocese. Reportedly, Bp. Guo plans to function as an auxiliary bishop.


Zhan is one of the seven previously excommunicated bishops whom Pope Francis put back in communion with the universal Church.

Being consecrated bishop without due permission from Rome is an act which merits automatic excommunication. This is stated very clearly in the Code of Canon Law: "A bishop who consecrates some one a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See" (Canon 1382).

The diocese of Mindong has about 90,000 Catholics. Eighty thousand of them are part of the underground Church, in contrast with the mere 10,000 who are part of the government-approved Church.


Photo from AsiaNews showing Bp. Guo (left), Abp. Celli

(center) and Bp. Zhan (right) at the meeting in Beijing.

At the meeting in a Beijing hotel, Abp. Celli also issued a notice relating to the retirement of Bp. Zhuang Jianjian of the Shantou diocese — also a bishop of the underground Church.

The hotel where the bishops had their meeting is Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the Chinese government's special hotel for official guests of the state.

Some members of the underground Church are spurning the government bishops. In November, an anonymous priest from the Zhengding diocese in Hebei province reportedly said that the government-approved bishops "are more like government employees than bishops."

In many parts of the Communist-run nation, the Vatican-China accord has led to increased persecution for faithful Catholics.

In October, Chinese authorities demolished portions of two Marian shrines, removing crosses and statues and destroying the edifices. The shrine to Our Lady of Bliss in Anlong in Guizhou province — also known as Our Lady of the Mountain — was destroyed. Also destroyed was the shrine to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows in Dongergou, in Shanxi province.

Also in October, two underground Catholic priests of the diocese of Xuanhua were taken away by authorities in Hebei province and placed in detention.

Fox News reports that "about a dozen" Catholic priests in China have been arrested since the deal with the Vatican was signed in September.

In November, an underground bishop, Bp. Pietro Shao Zhumin, was arrested for the fifth time by authorities, who sent him away for 10 to 15 days of Communist indoctrination.

One of the most outspoken opponents of the Vatican-China deal is Cdl. Joseph Zen, archbishop emeritus of Hong Kong. He warned the Vatican in February, "You're putting wolves before your flock, and they are going to make a massacre."

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