China-Vatican Agreement: The Consecration of Bishops and Vacant Dioceses

July 13, 2022
Map of the dioceses of China

In a recent interview, Francis expressed hope that the agreement which expires in October will soon be renewed. During the four years following the agreement’s entry into force, six bishops were consecrated, two of whom had been appointed before, and six took possession of their dioceses. But at least 36 dioceses – despite the agreement – ​​remain vacant in China.

During this week, Pope Francis returned to the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See on the appointment of bishops, whose deadline is approaching. In an interview with Reuters, he said:

“"It is going slowly, but (bishops, ed.) have been appointed. It is going slowly, as I say, 'Chinese style,' because the Chinese have that sense of time that no one rushes them. 'They also have problems,' Francis added, 'because it is not the same situation in every region of the country… But the agreement is good and I hope that it can be renewed in October.”

Francis has already personally intervened on the Sino-Vatican Agreement. On September 1, 2021, speaking on Spanish radio COPE, he said: “It is not easy to deal with China, but I am convinced that we must not give up on dialogue… One can be deceived in dialogue, one can make mistakes, but it's a way forward.”

On April 11, it was the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who declared in an interview with ACI-Stampa that he “hoped” that the renewal would present the possibility to “make clarifications or review some points” of the Agreement, the text of which remains secret.

But what has happened since the entry into force of the agreement on October 22, 2018? “The agreement deals with the appointment of bishops and is said to leave the Holy Father the final word of agreement on the only candidate presented by the Chinese authorities – the ‘appointment’ is never mentioned by the Chinese side. Since the content of the Agreement is kept secret, both civil and ecclesiastical authorities continue to behave as before.”

During these four years, there have been only six episcopal consecrations, for about forty vacant sees. But, of these six episcopal ordinations, the first two were not subject to the Accord. Bishop Yao Shun of Jining, consecrated on August 16, 2019, had been approved by the Holy See in 2010; and Bishop Xu Hongwei of Hanzhong, consecrated the following August 28, was approved in 2016.

The first two episcopal consecrations according to the procedure of the Agreement, with a single candidate, were celebrated during the winter of 2020, that is, only after the first renewal in October 2020. They were Bishop Chen Tianhao of Qingdao on November 23, 2020 and Bishop Liu Genzhu of Linfen/Hongdong on December 22.

The episcopal consecrations of Bishop Li Hui of Pingliang on July 28, 2021 and of Bishop Cui Qingqi of Wuhan-Hankou on September 8, 2021 would follow. Thus, almost a year has passed since the last consecration.

There were also six official diocesan recognitions: the installations of three underground bishops who became official, namely Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang, on January 30, 2019, who had been negotiating how to make himself official for years without adhering to the principles the Patriotic Association; Bishop Peter Lin Jiashan of Fuzhou, on June 9, 2020, and Bishop Paul Ma Cunguo of Shuozhou, on July 9, 2020.

The other three installations were those of already official bishops and members of the Bishops’ Conference and the Patriotic Association — the “official” bodies controlled by Beijing — who, for various reasons, had not yet officially taken possession of the diocese.

They are Msgr. Stephen Xu Hongwei, Bishop of Hanzhong, on January 18, 2020; Msgr. Peter Li Huiyuan Bishop of Fenxiang on June 22, 2020, formalized the previous year under duress; and Msgr. Jin Yangke, Bishop of Ningbo, on August 18, 2020, who had been consecrated bishop secretly and not by official procedure in 2012, by elderly Bishop Hu Xiande.

The Vacant Dioceses

In four years, therefore, six bishops have been consecrated and six dioceses taken over by other bishops. But how many vacant dioceses are there in China? To know this number, we must take into account that the jurisdictions of the Catholic hierarchy before the advent of Mao's China do not correspond to those imposed by the Beijing government on the “official” Catholic community.

According to data from the Catholic Church in China, there are 147 ecclesiastical jurisdictions, namely 20 archdioceses, 96 dioceses, (including Macao, Hong Kong, Baotou and Bameng), 29 apostolic prefectures and 2 ecclesiastical administrations (Harbin and Hulubei'er) .

Officially, according to the Chinese authorities, who have consolidated several dioceses but intend to create new ones, there are 104 dioceses in China, excluding Macao and Hong Kong, redrawn according to the borders of the civil administration.

Seven of these dioceses: Hainan in the province of the same name, Shaoguan in Guangdong, Xinyang in Henan, Jincheng and Xinzhou in Shanxi, Lishui in Zhejiang and Kangding in Sichuan, have however already been placed under the administration of other dioceses by Beijing authorities, so the total number would be reduced to 97.

Assuming that we take this new ecclesial geography as a point of reference for the Church in China today, the currently vacant sees are 36, to which must be added the 7 incorporated sees. In total, more than a third of Catholic communities therefore do not have a bishop four years after the Agreement came into force.

Detailed List of “Official” Vacant Dioceses

Tianjin in Tianjin Municipality;

Shijiazhuang, Xingtai and Zhangjakou in Hebei Province (3);

Jilin in Jilin Province;

Jinzhong-Yuci, Yuncheng and Datong in Shanxi Province (3);

Baotou and Chifeng in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (2);

Tianshui in Gansu Province;

Xining in Qinghai province;

Xinjiang in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region;

Chongqing in Chongqing Municipality;

The Diocese of Tibet Autonomous Region;

Dali and Zhaotong in Yunnan province (2);

Jiangxi in Jiangxi Province;

Puqi, Yichang, Jingzhou and Xiangfan in Hebei Province (4);

Kaifeng, Zhengzhou, Shangqiu, Luoyang, Zhumadian and Xinxiang in Henan Province (6);

Shanghai in Shanghai Municipality;

Qingzhou, Yantai and Heze in Shandong Province (3);

Hangzhou, Taizhou and Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province (3);

Minbei in Fujian province.