Is the Relationship Between China and the Vatican Improving?

Source: FSSPX News

Episcopal consecration of Msgr. Peter Wu Yishun, January 31, 2024

In less than a week, several episcopal consecrations were carried out in China by mutual agreement between the Holy See and Beijing. Should this be seen as a warming of Sino-Vatican relations a few months before the renewal of the provisional agreement signed between the two States in 2018, or a movement of a more profound nature?

On Monday, January 29, 2024, the Holy See announced the erection of the new diocese of Weifang and the episcopal consecration of its first bishop, Anthony Sun Venjun. A few days earlier, on January 25, on the feast of the conversion of St. Paul, Taddeus Wang Yuesheng was consecrated Bishop of Zhengzhou, an ecclesiastical district in the province of Henan.

A few days later – on January 31 – another bishop, Peter Wu Yishun, was also consecrated. These appointments were made as part of the provisional agreement signed between Rome and Beijing in 2018.

Optimists see it as a relaunch of a diplomatic process which seemed to have stalled for several months: the creation of the Diocese of Weifang and the installation of Bishop Sun Venjun was ratified by the Sovereign Pontiff in April 2023. It was a decision that had been “frozen” when the Vatican learned right after about the unilateral appointment of Joseph Shen Bin to the episcopal see of Shanghai.

In addition, during the Christmas season last year, the Bishop of Wehzhou, Peter Shao Zhumin, was arrested by the authorities for publicly contesting a reorganization of his ecclesiastical constituency decided without his agreement. 

Another insight is given by a member of the Chinese clergy who spoke to the religious news media The Pillar, which guaranteed him anonymity for obvious security reasons.

According to this “high-ranking religious,” the erection – decided jointly by Rome and Beijing – of the diocese of Zhengzhou and the other territorial reorganizations, was a response to internal political issues: “It is a matter of dismantling the dioceses where the rate of Membership in the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics (CCPA) is the weakest.”

Let us recall that in the wake of the provisional agreement signed with the Vatican, the Chinese government decreed that all members of the clergy must henceforth be members of the APCC, a direct emanation of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) which aims to control the Church.

And the religious source adds that there is another reason to explain the current restructurings: “The current borders of the dioceses still correspond to China before the Maoist revolution: however, the authorities think that they should rather coincide with the current civil districts, similarly to what Napoleon did in France with the ecclesiastical districts map.”

Generally speaking, the idea that a private institution, even a foreign one, enjoys autonomy is completely foreign to the ideology of the CCP: “Even private companies in China have an administrator who is in fact a representative of the Party,” concludes the Chinese religious.