Sun, Jan 28, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Taiwan-Vatican ties under threat

By Kung Ling-shin 孔令信

Taiwan-vatican relations are in danger and an event that would deeply affect President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration could take place as soon as March.

The Holy See has reportedly asked two Chinese underground bishops it had appointed to stand aside to make way for their Beijing-backed counterparts. The Holy See’s concession implies not only that the right to appoint bishops in China can be discussed, but that the Chinese authorities’ opinion will be respected, a concession that is even greater than what the Holy See has made with Vietnam.

This furthering of Vatican-China ties and possible closer interactions between the two could become a reality in the near future; deciding when and where is the only thing that remains to be done.

It is likely to be settled and announced after a secret meeting between the two sides in March.

The effect of two Chinese bishops in the underground Catholic community being forced to resign should never be underestimated.

Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian (莊建堅) of the Shantou (汕頭) Diocese in Guangdong Province, aged 88, was secretly consecrated with Vatican approval in 2006, during the papacy of pope Benedict XVI.

As Zhuang is unwilling to acknowledge that the Chinese Communist Party stands above the Catholic faith, he has been consistently boycotted by the Chinese government.

Bishop Joseph Guo Xijin (郭希錦) of the Mindong (閩東) Diocese in China’s Fujian Province, aged 70, was ordained coadjutor bishop of Mindong in 2008 by Benedict XVI and Huang Shoucheng (黃守誠), who was then the ordinary bishop of the Mindong Diocese.

In 2016, Guo succeeded Huang as the ordinary bishop of the Mindong Diocese, but he has never been recognized by the Chinese government because of his refusal to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).

Last year, Guo was detained for a month before Holy Week and was forbidden to perform any church duties during Easter. During the one-month detention, Guo was asked to sign a document that made him voluntarily stand aside for Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu (詹思祿), the government-ordained bishop from the CPCA.

In 2007, Benedict XVI published a “Letter to bishops, priests, consecrated persons and lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the People’s Republic of China.” In the pastoral letter, the Pope responded to the bishops, fathers and other Catholics in China who had been eagerly looking for a clear direction from the pope, in the hope that Chinese Catholics would be able to live their lives according to the faith with determination, certainty and contentment.

However, given recent events, it is clear that care and concern from the papacy is not forthcoming.

Since October last year, Zhuang has twice been asked by the Holy See to retire.

After a secret meeting last month, a Vatican delegation traveled south to Fujian Province to meet with CPCA-affiliated Zhan, an explicit attempt to prepare him for taking over as the new bishop of the Mindong Diocese once Guo has been persuaded to resign.

The events can be interpreted from several perspectives.

First, it appears that the right to appoint bishops is no longer an obstacle for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican, as bishops in the underground Catholic community are to be replaced one by one with Beijing-backed counterparts from the CPCA.

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