Faithful in prayer at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seshan in Shanghai, China Faithful in prayer at the Basilica of Our Lady of Seshan in Shanghai, China 

Cardinal Parolin: Pope appoints Shanghai bishop for good of diocese and dialogue

In an interview with Vatican Media, the Cardinal Secretary of State explains the reasons for the appointment of Bishop Shen Bin, "an esteemed pastor" and reiterates the Catholic Church's desire for dialogue and hopes for the opening of a permanent Holy See liaison office in China.

By Vatican News

In an interview with the Vatican Media, Cardinal Pietro Parolin offers a perspective on the relations between the Holy See and China regarding the Provisional Agreement that since September 2018, and then extended in 2020 and 2022, regulates appointments and transfers of bishops in the Asian country. He reiterates its "fundamental principle" that must be respected, which is that of "decisions taken in agreement." He describes the complex path in which “obstacles” can undermine “trust and take away positive vitality.” But at the same time, he notes, it is "a rather obligatory path" that beyond the obstacles has its strength in the "reasons for dialogue." 

Recent events

In his overview, the Secretary of State starts from the situation of Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai, appointed today by Pope Francis, whom the Chinese authorities had in fact already transferred to the new post from his previous Diocese of Haimen, informing the Holy See but without involving it in the decision as the Agreement provides. This already took place about a month after the most recent renewal of the Agreement, that Beijing had installed the Bishop of Yujiang, John Peng Weizhao, as Auxiliary of the Diocese of Jiangxi, which is not recognised by the Holy See, news received with "surprise and regret."

Pending issues

Describing Bishop Shen Bin as an “esteemed pastor,” in the interview Cardinal Parolin explained that the Pope has "decided nevertheless to rectify the canonical irregularity” for the “greater good of the diocese.” However, the Secretary of State notes, this way of proceeding “seems to disregard the spirit of dialogue and collaboration established between the Vatican and the Chinese side over the years and to which is referred in the Agreement." For example, there are other “pending issues” related to two auxiliary bishops - Thaddeus Ma Daqin, still blocked, and Joseph Xing Wenzhi, retired - that require a “just and wise solution.”

Consensus to prevent disagreements

In his responses to the five interview questions, Cardinal Parolin insists on the need for “open dialogue” and “respectful encounter with the Chinese side.” If transfers are part of the "physiology of Church government," and therefore there is no obstacle for this to take place in China, the problem, Cardinal Parolin reiterates “would arise if they were to proceed in a non-consensual manner,” while “the proper application of the Agreement allows for avoiding such difficulties.” It is “indispensable,” then, “that all episcopal appointments in China, including transfers, be made by consensus, as agreed, and to keep alive the spirit of dialogue between the Parties. Together we must prevent disharmonious situations that create disagreements and misunderstandings.”

Three urgent matters

Cardinal Parolin then focuses on a number of matters that in his opinion “urgently need to be dealt with.” He identifies three in particular: the Episcopal Conference, the communication of the Chinese bishops with the Pope, and evangelization. The creation of an Episcopal Conference, he emphasized, would make it possible to bring to fruition the Holy See's desire “to see growth in the responsibility of the Bishops in the leadership of the Church in China.”

In this context, he continued, “regular communication of the Chinese Bishops is needed with the Bishop of Rome, indispensable for effective communion, knowing that all this belongs to the structure and doctrine of the Catholic Church, which the Chinese authorities have always said they do not want to alter." In spite of “much wariness” that can “slow down and hinder the work of evangelization,” Chinese Catholics, “even those defined as 'clandestine', deserve trust,” Cardinal Parolin affirms, “because they sincerely want to be loyal citizens and be respected in their conscience and in their faith.” Therefore, it is “mistrust towards Catholicism needs to be overcome, which is not a religion to be considered foreign, let alone contrary, to the culture of that great people.”

Liaison office in China

Cardinal Parolin says he wished to give this interview, “because the Catholic faithful, not only in China, have the right to be properly informed.” He acknowledges “obstacles placed in the way to undermine trust and reduce positive energy. Nevertheless, the reasons for dialogue seem even stronger to me.” And to help the dialogue between the two parties be “more fluid and fruitful,” Cardinal Parolin proposes “the opening of an established liaison office of the Holy See in China,” which “would not only favour dialogue with the civil authorities, but also contribute to full reconciliation within the Chinese Church and its journey towards a desirable normality.”

In conclusion, he notes that "we have signed an Agreement that can be defined as historic,” but it “needs, however, to be applied in its entirety and in the most correct manner possible.” The Holy See, he assured, “is determined to do its part to ensure that the journey continues.”


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15 July 2023, 12:10