Hong Kong — A Chinese bishop who avoided government intervention in the affairs of his diocese died without having his Vatican-appointed successor officially ordained, illustrating some of the complications of the situation of bishops in China.
Ucanews.com reported that Vatican-approved Bishop John Liu Shigong of Jining (Wumeng), in the northern Inner Mongolia autonomous region, died June 9 after being diagnosed with liver cancer in May. The 89-year-old was the fourth bishop to die in China this year. A funeral for the bishop was scheduled for June 15, to be celebrated by Bishop Meng Qinglu of Hohhot, ucanews.com reported.
It is believed that in 2010, the Vatican appointed Fr. Anthony Yao Shun, vicar general of the diocese, as Bishop Liu's successor. Yao was ordained a priest in Jining in 1991 and in 1996 graduated from St. John's University, Collegeville, Minnesota. The 52-year-old is considered a liturgy expert in China.
Soon after the Vatican appointment, Yao returned to the diocese from Beijing, where he taught at the National Seminary, and began managing church affairs in place of the bishop, said a church source who asked not to be named.
According to the Chinese government, which does not recognize papal authority over a bishop's appointment, a Catholic bishop must be produced through an election. The result then must be approved by the bishops' conference, which is not recognized by the Vatican, before an episcopal ordination can take place.
To get around the requirement, some dioceses hold an election after the Vatican appoints a bishop for them, ucanews.com reported.
"The diocese prepared to run an election several years ago, but government officials came and showed Liu the regulations about ordaining bishops, such as the diocese has to accept that the authorities can assign any bishop as consecrator or co-consecrator," the source said.
Liu was unhappy after reading the regulations and there has been no progress with regard to electing a bishop according to the government's requirements.
"Election and ordination need to take place eventually as a 'home cannot have no master,'" the source told ucanews.com. "But if there is a bishop not recognized by the Vatican attending the episcopal ordination, our priests for sure would not accept it.
"The Chinese government would only consider its own interests. So, unless the Vatican compromises to an extent that makes the government satisfied, the diocese will possibly delay the bishop appointment procedure until a better time," the source told ucanews.com.
The Vatican has prioritized closed-door negotiations with Beijing since 2016 in a bid to resolve the thorny issue of bishop appointments. Beijing demands the Vatican recognize seven government-appointed bishops whom the Vatican does not recognize. Meanwhile, the Vatican wants Beijing to recognize about 20 bishop candidates that it has appointed for the open community, whose leaders register with the government, and nearly 40 bishops who refuse to register with the government.
Jining has about 60,000 Catholics served by 30 priests, one deacon and 12 nuns. It has two seminarians, ucanews.com reported.
The ucanews.com source described Bishop Liu as "a kind and nice" man who did not care much for formality.
Liu was born in Sizi Wangqi, in Inner Mongolia, Aug. 18, 1928. He entered the seminary at the age of 14. His vocation was suspended when the seminary he was attending was closed due to political turmoil in the late 1940s. He returned to the seminary again in 1952.
He was ordained a priest in 1956 and served in the parish until religious activities were prohibited again due to political turmoil. During the Cultural Revolution, he became a farmer for a period but was also sent to a reform-through-labor camp. He re-assumed his duty as parish priest when religious activities revived in the late 1970s. In 1995, he was ordained bishop of Jining.
The source described his Vatican-preferred successor, Yao, as a "rigorous and careful person who has great patience with others."