Wednesday, July 18, 2007

China Nominates Bishop, Threatening Vatican Rift

~from Christian Today

China's state-controlled Catholic church has quietly nominated a new bishop for Beijing and the priest chosen said the government, not him, would decide whether to seek approval from Rome as Pope Benedict demanded.

The nomination of Father Li Shan, apparently so far without Vatican blessing, could widen the rift between Rome and Beijing just weeks after the Pope issued a letter calling for a unified Chinese church free of state interference.

China's 8 to 12 million Catholics are divided between an "above-ground" church approved by the ruling Communist Party and an "underground" church that rejects government ties and says it answers only to Rome.

The state-approved church widely honours the Pope as a spiritual figurehead, but the government restricts formal contacts with Rome, which has not had diplomatic ties with Beijing since 1951.

On June 30, Pope Benedict issued a letter on the Chinese church that urged reconciliation. But he said the Vatican must be allowed to pick its own bishops, possibly with some government consultation -- a claim China has rejected as interference in its domestic affairs.

The death in April of Beijing bishop Fu Tieshan, who did not have Rome's blessing, opened up a vacancy in China's most prominent diocese -- and presented a test for Beijing-Vatican relations.

Some church people had hoped that in the wake of the Pope's letter, China would make a gesture of goodwill by giving Rome some say in naming his successor.

But the likely elevation of Li, who said he had not been in contact with the Vatican, may renew tensions if he is appointed without papal blessing.

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