On November 24, 2022, an “underground” bishop was installed at the head of the diocese of Jiangxi, which is not recognized by Rome, and became an “official” bishop, attached to the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics. This appointment violates the agreement between China and the Vatican who has protested by an official note. Back to the genesis and consequences of the event.
Aged 56, Msgr. John Peng Weizhao became a priest in 1989. He was secretly ordained Bishop of Yujiang with a mandate from Pope Francis on April 10, 2014, to succeed Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who spent 23 years in prison and died at age 96 in 2016.
A few weeks after his ordination, Msgr. Peng was arrested. Released in November 2014, he has always been severely restricted by the authorities in the exercise of his ministry. According to Beijing, he was a “clandestine” bishop and subjected, with his clergy, to constant pressure.”
During a ceremony organized on November 24, Msgr. Peng was installed as “auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Jiangxi.” The ceremony was presided over by Mg Li Suguang, vice-president of the Chinese Catholic Bishops' Conference, the collegiate body not recognized by the Holy See.
The diocese whose prelate had been appointed bishop, Yujiang, has existed since 1885. Thus, in the province of Jiangxi there are currently two bishops: Bishop Li Suguang, 58 years old and official bishop of Nanchang, and Bishop Peng, who became his auxiliary.
A new archdiocese will be built in Nanchang, organized by the Catholic authorities controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as a model of sinicization, the key word chosen by Xi Jinping for the future of religions in China.
According to the website chinacatholic.cn - the web site of Catholic bodies controlled by the CCP - during the installation ceremony, Bishop Peng read the following oath: “I swear to observe the commandments of God, to fulfill the pastoral duties of the auxiliary bishop, to faithfully preach the Gospel, to lead the priests and the faithful of the diocese of Jiangxi;”
“to respect the National Constitution, to safeguard the unity of the homeland and social harmony, to love the country and the religion, and to persist in the principle of independent and autonomous Churches, to adhere to the direction of Catholicism in my country in China, actively leading Catholicism to adapt to socialist society, and contributing to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”
This confirms the pressure exerted by the Chinese authorities on official and unofficial bishops. And that they are also pursuing their project of adapting the limits of the dioceses according to their political objectives, without giving much weight to negotiations with the Vatican.
On November 26, the Holy See issued a statement condemning the new situation. “The installation ceremony” of Msgr. John Peng Weizhao as “Auxiliary Bishop of Jiangxi,” did not take place in accordance with the dispositions of the provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops between the Vatican and the People's Republic of China, renewed just a month ago.
This official intervention specifies that the prelate, by making “official” his position in a diocese other than that for which he had been appointed, made a choice which was not in agreement with Rome.
The note also remarks that the diocese of Jiangxi is not recognized by the Holy See, and that the event did not take place “in conformity with the spirit of dialogue that exists between the Vatican parties and the Chinese parties and what has been stipulated in the Provisional Agreement on the Appointment of Bishops of September 22, 2018.”
Finally, it notes that the civil recognition of Bishop Peng was preceded, according to reports received, by prolonged and intense pressure by the local authorities.” And, the note concludes, “the Holy See hopes that similar episodes will not be repeated, …and reaffirms its complete willingness to continue the respectful dialogue concerning all of the matters of common interest.”
But, unfortunately, it must be noted that such a measure, taken in this way, once again confirms the little weight that Beijing gives to the agreement on the appointment of bishops. And it is nothing that can be reassured by the soothing language of the communiqué from the Holy See.
We must add the aggravating fact of the oath taken by Msgr. Peng, with references to the autonomy of the Chinese Church and the objective of adapting Catholicism to socialist society, clearly suggests that he acted under sustained pressure.
Finally, it should be recalled that no bishop has been appointed in China since September 8, 2021, despite the large number of vacant dioceses and the renewal of the agreement last October. In fact, the agreement was not even mentioned in the official texts of the assembly of Chinese Catholics held, under strict Party control, in Wuhan last summer.