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Government hijacks control of Wuhan diocese


WUHAN (AsiaNews): While world attention was focussed on the confinement of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in Shanghai, the government hijacked control of the Wuhan diocese, with the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association quietly removing the long time administrator, Father Shen Guo’an, from his position.

Government officials have also interfered in a decision made by 19 of the 23 priests in the diocese to reshuffle the parish priests, something which they say has not been done for a number of years and is long overdue.

However, government officials have told the priests that the meeting had no authority to make such a decision, as the gathering was both invalid and illegal, and the decision is, as a result, null and void.

On 30 November 2012, Father Shen announced the transfer of some parish priests during a solemn Mass in the diocese to mark the beginning of the Year of Faith. Parish delegates and people at the Mass welcomed the move.

However, after the Mass had finished, some priests were interrogated by government officials and warned that the changes are invalid and not to go ahead with them.

Father Cui Qingqi, who was absent from the priests’ meeting, as he has been doing studies in Beijing, was recalled by the authorities when news of the transfers broke.

On the morning of December 1, he returned to Hankou, one of the three cities huddled around the junction of the Yangtze and Han Rivers in Wuhan diocese, but local people said they had seen him talking with government officials before showing his face in Church circles.

On December 8, despite the obstacles set up by government officials, the priests in Wuhan sent out appointment letters to all parish priests and statements of notification of the appointments to government departments for their records.

On December 13, government officials escorted 15 priests from the diocese to a meeting called by religious officials.

They were told that Father Shen had been dismissed from his duties as the head of the diocese and Father Shu Zigeng, the secretary general of Provincial Patriotic Association and Church Affairs Commission, had also been dismissed from his position.

In their place, a Church management committee heavily stacked with members of the Patriotic Association was set up with Father Cui at its head to run diocesan affairs.

The committee includes Sister Wu Lin, the vice president of National Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Father Li Bangmeng, Father Gao Leiqing and Hu Guowei, a member of the Patriotic Association.

Researchers of Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong are questioning why the freedom of religious belief, as guaranteed in China’s constitution, is being so heavily interfered with and why the transfer of parish priests is not being respected as an internal matter and normal practice in the Church.

They say that the biggest fear is that the intrusion of the authorities into the appointment of parish priests and the firing of Father Shen could turn out to be a step towards bringing the diocese of Wuhan into an irregular state, which could prompt an illicit ordination of a bishop and cause a devastating split in the community.

In June last year, Father Shen had been put forward by the Patriotic Association as the bishop of the bishopless diocese, but he was not granted papal approval and the local priests told the Sunday Examiner they had put up a concerted opposition to the appointment.

A meeting, attended by nearly 100 priests, sisters and lay people was held with government officials in June 2011. They told the officials categorically that Father Shen was not an appropriate person to be bishop, although he was mostly acceptable as an administrator.

At the time, the government backed off.

In his turn, Father Shen refused to go ahead with ordination as a bishop, for which dates were actually set, without the permission of the pope.

The government then set out to promote Father Cui for the job, but failed to garner adequate support for their second choice. Father Cui could only muster minority support among the priests and the people.

Since then, the stalemate had continued, until authorities acted decisively last month.


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