The New York Times

December 1, 2006

China Installs New Bishop, Angering Cardinal


China installed a new bishop on Thursday over the objections of the Vatican, prompting Cardinal Joseph Zen, the Roman Catholic bishop of Hong Kong, to issue a blistering statement accusing mainland authorities of having threatened and kidnapped mainland clergy to make them participate in the ritual.

Cardinal Zen said late Thursday night that the ordination by the government-controlled church was more serious than China's consecration of two bishops in the spring over Vatican protests, because the Holy See specifically warned the Chinese government then against ordaining any more bishops without approval. The Vatican raised the prospect then of excommunicating Chinese priests who allowed themselves to be consecrated as bishops in defiance of Rome.

Cardinal Zen, whom Pope Benedict XVI has granted considerable discretion to speak on issues involving the church on the mainland, also disclosed on Thursday the existence of a secret delegation from the Vatican to Beijing after the spring ordinations. The cardinal said the Chinese government had promised that it would not conduct any more ordinations without Vatican approval.

Hours before Cardinal Zen issued his statement, Jiang Yu, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, held a news briefing in Beijing at which she urged the Vatican to view the consecration favorably. ''We hope the Vatican side can take the history of China-Vatican relations and the current situation of the Chinese church into full account,'' she said. Chinese officials were not available after Cardinal Zen spoke.

Cardinal Zen was protesting the installation of Wang Renlei, the vicar general of the Xuzhou Diocese in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, as the auxiliary bishop of the diocese. Mr. Wang is only 36, so he could serve as a bishop for decades. Chinese officials said Mr. Wang had been selected democratically within the diocese.

The Vatican has been particularly hostile to the ordination of young bishops by government-approved Catholic churches. Talks over a possible normalization of diplomatic relations and the possibility of a transfer of the papal nuncio from Taipei to Beijing have run into particular difficulty over the question of which bishops should run dioceses: those from the government-approved churches or those from underground churches loyal to the Vatican.

Cardinal Zen made a series of thinly veiled comments suggesting that the ordination was the work of China's religious affairs officials, who administer the government-approved churches. ''Under the cloak of serving the church, they work to destroy her unity,'' Cardinal Zen said in his statement. Cardinal Zen also charged that, ''in order to achieve their purpose, the methods they used this time are not only threat, allurement and deceit but also forceful abduction and kidnapping!'' But he provided no details.

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