By Charles Hutzler
Monday, May 15, 2006
BEIJING, May 14 -- China's state-approved Catholic Church welcomed the installation Sunday of another bishop who was not approved by the pope, exacerbating the strain in Beijing's relations with the Vatican.
Bishop Zhan Silu, also known as Vincent Zhan, celebrated Mass for 500 Catholics and officials in a church in the southern city of Ningde to mark his formal appointment as head of the Mindong diocese. Hong Kong Cable TV showed Zhan holding a gold staff and wearing the pointed hat, or miter, used by bishops.
The welcoming ceremony compounded tensions in Vatican-China relations. Just a few months ago, Catholics had expressed hope that back-channel communications and concessions by the Vatican would end a rift between Rome and a separate Chinese church set up by the Communist government a half-century ago.
In recent weeks, China's state-approved Catholic hierarchy ordained two other bishops without papal assent, drawing a threat of excommunication from the Vatican and aggravating the split.
"They had to know that this would cause a serious reaction, a breakdown in the efforts to normalization," Richard Madsen, an expert on China-Vatican ties at the University of California at San Diego, said of the ordinations. "This shows at some level, they just didn't want relations to go forward."
In the fallout, the Vatican put on hold a review of Zhan's appointment that could have led to his approval by Pope Benedict XVI, a church official in Hong Kong said on condition of anonymity because of his involvement in the Rome-China dialogue.
Liu Bainian, a senior official in the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the state-backed agency that administers Catholic churches, dismissed criticism of Zhan's installation, saying the ceremony was planned long ago.
The Vatican declined to comment on the latest development.
Sunday's ceremony was not a new ordination but rather the appointment of an existing bishop to a diocese. In 2000, when Zhan was ordained a bishop without the pope's consent, the Vatican said it "certainly hinders the process" of normalizing ties.
After coming to power in 1949, the Chinese Communists set up a state-backed Catholic church outside the Vatican's authority, forcing a choice of allegiance on Catholics. Some of China's estimated 10 million to 14 million Catholics shun the state-approved church, and others dislike the "underground" church, but many -- including laypeople and clergy -- circulate between both.