Pope Francis gave in to China’s unilateral appointment of a new bishop in Shanghai, formally recognising Beijing’s installation of Bishop Shen Bin three months after the fact.
A Vatican statement on Saturday said the pope had named Bishop Joseph Shen Bin to head the vacant Shanghai diocese position.
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But Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said in a separate interview that it had not been consulted when Shen was moved to Shanghai from the diocese of Haimen, in Jiangsu province.
In comments to Vatican media explaining the pope’s decision, Parolin said Francis approved Shen’s appointment to allow the bishop to lead his flock and to “heal the canonical irregularity” created by Beijing’s unilateral transfer in April, which he said occurred without the Holy See’s involvement.
The pope had decided to approve Shen “for the greater good” of the Shanghai diocese and because Shen was an “esteemed pastor,” Parolin said in the interview.
China and the Vatican have not had diplomatic relations since 1951, following the Communists’ rise to power and the expulsion of foreign priests. The Vatican has sought in recent years to re-establish contact and reduce friction, particularly over the appointment of bishops.
The Vatican previously acknowledged that the 2018 accord was far from ideal. It regularised the status of several bishops and paved the way for future nominations, but China has repeatedly violated it amid a broader overall crackdown by President Xi Jinping on religious freedoms.
Full details of the agreement were never made public, but Francis has claimed he has the final say in the bishop appointment process.
Beijing has long insisted that it must approve such appointments as a matter of its national sovereignty. The Vatican has insisted on the pope’s divine authority to choose the successors of Christ’s apostles.
Since the break in China-Holy See ties, Catholics in China have been divided between members of an official, state-sanctioned church, the Patriotic Catholic Association, and those who belong to an underground church loyal to the pontiff. Estimates of the total number of Chinese Catholics run between six million and 12 million.
In November last year, the pope issued a statement expressing “surprise and regret” at Chinese authorities’ move to make Peng Weizhao the auxiliary bishop of Jiangxi, a diocese that the Vatican does not recognise.