VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In an exceptionally rare move, the Vatican has protested the Chinese Communist Party's appointment of a bishop to a diocese not recognized by Rome.
On Saturday, The Holy See Press Office published a statement that noted with "surprise and regret" the news that Bp. John Peng Weizhao was installed on Nov. 24 as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi — a diocese created by the CCP without Vatican approval.
The installation ceremony was held in Nanchang at a service led by the local Bp. John Baptist Li ShuGuang, who is vice president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference — a body not recognized by Rome. Around 200 congregants participated in the service.
In 2014, Pope Francis secretly appointed Weizhao as bishop of Yujiang. China reacted by incarcerating Weizhao for six months. The prelate's ministry was severely restricted by authorities even after Weizhao was released in November 2014.
According to Asia News, Weizhao told his clergy on Sept. 22 that he had resigned as bishop of Yujiang and accepted the government's plan to integrate the dioceses in Jiangxi into one: the newly created diocese of Jiangxi.
The Vatican, even in the days of the "underground Church," has traditionally overseen five dioceses in the province of Jiangxi with an archbishop based in Nanchang, which is the capital and the most populated city in Jiangxi.
However, the CCP-controlled Patriotic Church has had a single diocese called the diocese of Jiangxi, headed by Bp. Li ShuGuang at the time the 2018 agreement was signed. The new arrangement signifies a total takeover by the Patriotic Church, at least in Jiangxi province.
Moreover, Weizhao's consent to his new role as auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi means that he has joined the Patriotic Church and agreed to the Chinese doctrine of "upholding the principle of independent and self-managed churches," as he swore during his installation service.
On Oct. 11, Weizhao participated in the foundation stone laying ceremony of the bishopric of the new unified diocese of Nanchang. During the ceremony, Catholic officials loyal to the CCP hailed Weizhao as a role model for the "sinicization" of the Catholic Church.
The bishop swore to "adhere to the direction of sinicization of Catholicism in our country, actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society and contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," the state-controlled "China Catholic" website reported.
Bishop Weizhao will now also serve as auxiliary to Li ShuGuang, archbishop of Nanchang, who was ordained to the episcopate in 2010 with approval from both the Holy See and the CCP.
Li ShuGuang was one of the bishops who defied the Vatican and participated in the illicit episcopal ordination of Fr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop of Shantou on July 14, 2011. Bingzhang did not have the pontifical mandate and was excommunicated latae sententiae.
On Sept. 22, 2018, a day after signing the secret pact with China, Pope Francis decided to "readmit to full ecclesial communion" Bingzhang and seven other bishops ordained without the papal mandate, "with a view to sustaining the proclamation of the gospel in China."
Because of his capitulation, the Chinese regime rewarded Li ShuGuang by allowing him to participate in the International Prayer Meeting for Peace organized by the left-wing Community of Sant'Egidio, which was held in Munich, Germany, Sept. 11–13, 2012.
In its press release, the Vatican noted that the new arrangement "did not take place in accordance with the spirit of dialogue existing between the Vatican and the Chinese [Communist] Party" and with what is stipulated in the Sino–Vatican concordat of 2018.
"Furthermore, the civil recognition of Msgr. Peng was preceded, according to reports, by long and heavy pressure from the local authorities," the press statement emphasized.
"The Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated," the Vatican said. "It awaits appropriate communications in this regard from the authorities and reaffirms its full willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all matters of common interest."
According to the CCP's interpretation of the Sino–Vatican concordat, the permission of the Holy See is only needed for the consecration of new bishops, not for transferring those the Vatican has already recognized or created before 2018.
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.
Crucially, while the Vatican chose to speak on the issue of the reconfiguration of the diocese and the transfer of a bishop, it has been widely criticized for remaining deafeningly silent on the trial of Cdl. Joseph Zen.
On Friday, the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts convicted five others for failing to register a now-defunct relief fund that aided Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. The court ordered the 90-year-old cardinal to pay a fine of 4,000 HKD ($500).
The Vatican has also remained tight-lipped on the human rights abuses committed by the regime in the pursuit of its zero-COVID policy, which has triggered anti-lockdown freedom protests across multiple cities in China since Friday.
The extraordinary acts of civil disobedience prompted by the death of 10 people in a building fire in Ürümqi in Xinjiang is being described as the first significant uprising since the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre in 1989.
Protestors, holding blank sheets of white paper, are even calling for the removal of Chinese leader Xi Jinping and his brutal regime of mass COVID testing, brute-force lockdowns, enforced quarantines and digital tracking.