The Sino-Vatican Deal Faced With a Chinese Shadow Play

September 05, 2019
Mgr Antonio Yao Shun (center)

The first episcopal ordination since the secret agreement reached between China and the Holy See in 2018 was celebrated on August 26, 2019. In the context of the progressive and forced Sinisation of Catholicism, which creates greater fear for the Church, the Chinese and Roman media presented the event under the sign of a found consensus.

The name of the new bishop is Antonio Yao Shun. On the morning of August 26, 2019, the 54-year-old priest was ordained Bishop of Jining, in Inner Mongolia Province, in the north of the country.

Hundreds of local priests and religious took part in the solemn consecration ceremony in the cathedral. Jining is the most important diocese of Inner Mongolia, home to about 70,000 Catholics.

The official media of the People’s Republic of China have shown, with photos, that Bishop Yao Shun’s episcopal ordination took place without any particular tensions, and in accordance with the provisions of the interim agreement signed on September 22, 2018 by the Holy See and Beijing.

On the Vatican’s side, they also emphasized the “consensus” that prevailed over the nomination of the new Bishop of Jining. On August 26, Gianni Valente wrote in Vatican Insider, the official media of the Holy See, that “the choice of the new bishop, prompted the emergence of an important unanimous consent of the Holy See, the diocesan community, and the political apparatus around the candidate’s profile.”

And the Vaticanist was pleased that “the provisional agreement concluded between the Holy See and the Beijing government on the nomination of Chinese bishops furnishes the mechanisms to find solutions that will be always in keeping with the apostolic nature of the Church, by keeping the door open for frank and direct discussion with the Chinese political authorities.”

Such a chorus of praises should not deceive: the September 22, 2018 agreement did not resolve everything, far from it. The Sinisation of Catholicism is a reality that is progressing in China, as evidenced by FSSPX.News on August 26, 2019 reporting—one example among many—the retraining sessions organized a month ago for the clergy of the diocese of Mindong, in order to force priests to follow “a path consistent with socialist society.”

But China and the Holy See each have an interest in showing that the guidelines of the agreement are well respected. China, enmeshed in the confrontation with the democracy movement in Hong Kong and in a trade war with the United States, needs a form of international recognition, of which the Sino-Vatican Agreement is an expression.

The Holy See, meanwhile, is much focused on the normalization of relations between the Church and China: a failure on this point would be an affront to the head of Vatican diplomacy, Cardinal Parolin, and a blemish on Francis’ pontificacy, giving a little more grist to the mill for his opponents, who hardly miss anything.

Does the “consensual” consecration of the new bishop constitute a positive sign of the impact of the agreement between the Vatican and the Middle Kingdom? The future will tell, but a Chinese proverb ironically explains that “marriage is a place besieged; those who are outside want to enter, those who are in want to leave.