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World News

Vatican says China has unilaterally appointed bishop to Shanghai

by Reuters Journalist

Chinese authorities have appointed a new bishop to Shanghai, the largest Roman Catholic diocese in China, the Vatican said on Tuesday, in an apparent violation of a bilateral pact between the two states.

The Holy See was informed "a few days ago" of the decision by China to transfer Bishop Shen Bin from Haimen, in Jiangsu province, to the diocese of Shanghai, the Vatican said.

It added that it had learned of his official instalment earlier on Tuesday from the media.

"For the moment I have nothing to say about the Holy See's assessment of the matter," spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

The announcement came just four months after the Vatican accused China of violating its bilateral accord on the appointment of bishops by installing one in a diocese not recognised by the Holy See.

The contested, secret pact was renewed last October for the second time since 2018. 

The deal was a bid to ease a longstanding divide across mainland China between an underground flock loyal to the pope and a state-backed official church. For the first time since the 1950s, both sides recognised the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese embassy in Rome to Tuesday's Vatican statement.

AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency, said Shen was appointed by the Council of Chinese Bishops, which he himself heads. It is not recognised by the Holy See and is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.

On its website, the diocese of Shanghai said about 200 people had attended the inauguration ceremony for Shen.

"Bishop Shen Bin said that he will continue to carry forward the fine tradition of patriotism and love of the Catholic Church in Shanghai (and) adhere to the principle of independence and self-government," it said.     

The bishopric of Shanghai had been vacant for 10 years since the death of the late bishop Jin Luxian in April 2013. 

The Holy See has said that the city's auxiliary bishop, Ma Daqin, should administer the diocese, but he has been under house arrest since 2012 when he publicly rejected the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association -- the Communist body that governed the local Church.

Only six new bishops have been appointed since the 2018 deal was struck between the Vatican and China. Its opponents say this proves it is not producing the desired effects. They also point to increasing restrictions on religious freedoms in China for Christians and other minorities.

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