China nominates bishop, threatening Vatican rift

China's state-controlled Catholic church has quietly nominated a new bishop for Beijing and the priest chosen said the government would decide whether to seek approval from Rome as Pope Benedict demanded.

China nominates bishop, threatening Vatican rift
The nomination of Father Li Shan, apparently so far without Vatican blessing, could widen the rift between Rome and Beijing weeks after the Pope issued a letter calling for a unified Chinese church free of state interference.

China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are split between an "above-ground" church approved by the ruling Communist Party and an "underground" church that rejects government ties and says it answers only to Rome.

The state-approved church widely honors the Pope as a spiritual figurehead, but the government restricts formal contacts with Rome, which has not had diplomatic ties with Beijing since 1951.

On June 30, Pope Benedict issued a letter on the Chinese church that urged reconciliation. But he said the Vatican must be allowed to pick bishops, possibly with some government consultation -- a claim China has rejected as interference in its domestic affairs.

The death in April of Beijing bishop Fu Tieshan, who did not have Rome's blessing, opened a vacancy in China's most prominent diocese and presented a test for China-Vatican relations.

Some church people have hoped that in the wake of the Pope's letter, China will make a gesture of goodwill by giving Rome some say in naming Fu's successor.

But the elevation of Li, who said he had not been in contact with the Vatican, may inflame tensions if he is appointed without papal blessing.

One priest familiar with the issue said Li may be in private contact with the Vatican and it was too early to assume he would be ordained without Vatican approval. Like other sources he requested anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue.

In 2006, the Vatican criticized China for naming several bishops without papal approval, sparking sharp exchanges over religious freedom and political control.

Li, a priest in his 40s for a church in the city's commercial heart, was endorsed by a group of dozens of clergy and lay people from the state-approved Beijing diocese on Monday, two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters.

The Union of Catholic Asian News, an Internet news service, reported that "government officials had earlier lobbied all priests to ensure that Father Li would be elected."

Li, who also uses the Christian name Joseph, told Reuters he had not been in contact with the Vatican and it was not for him to decide whether to do so.

"It's up to the government to decide," he said. "I haven't considered that, because there are a lot of things that need to be done. There's still a long time."

He said his nomination had been submitted to China's state-controlled Bishops' Conference, which in turn would consult with "other authorities."

These days the majority of bishops even in China's state-approved church have secured Rome's blessing, and in his letter the Pope said those ordained should make a point of announcing that approval when they take up their positions.

Two sources described Li as a kindly but unassertive priest. "He may be too meek to take on this very tough role," one of them said.

Father Li has been a vice chairman of the Beijing branch of the state-backed Catholic Patriotic Association and also belongs to the city People's Congress, a party-run parliament.

One source said Li's formal appointment could come as early as next week, when state-approved clergy gather in Beijing for celebrations marking fifty years since the founding of the Patriotic Association.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 18 Temmuz 2007, 13:18