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Regional seminary in Shanxi suspends classes

FENYANG (UCAN): The Montecorvino Major Seminary in Shanxi province, northern China, did not re-open for the academic year beginning in September, due to a controversy over the dismissal of its rector.

Convening a board meeting on June 18, Bishop John Huo Cheng, from Fenyang, the chairperson of the board of directors, announced the decision to dismiss the seminary rector, Father Anthony Chang Tongxi, and begin the summer break with immediate effect.

The meeting was attended by three bishops and two diocesan administrators.

Diocesan sources said that all seminarians, who had not taken their examinations, were told to return to their respective dioceses or congregations within three days.

Forty-five-year-old Father Chang, who comes from Taiyuan diocese, is being accused over problems concerning management-style and his own personal conduct. He is suspected of embezzling seminary funds.

Diocesan sources say that the Religious Affairs Bureau of the provincial government has intervened and say the board had no official permission to act and consequently, has violated the regulations of the bureau.

The bureau demanded that 85-year-old Bishop Huo retract all decisions regarding the closure of the seminary. However, the seminary management said that the commencement of the new semester must be postponed, as nothing could be done in preparation for the opening of the new term, because of the interference of the board.

However, Father Chang denied that the government is intervening. “I am a priest. I obey the bishops. I am still waiting for the board to solve this matter and to be given further notice,” he claimed on September 15.

“If the board thinks I am no longer suitable, they should talk with me in advance, but they did not,” he said. He added that accusations and rumours about him are incorrect and that the incident seems to him to be a scramble for power.

Seminarians, teachers and many clergy in Shanxi say they are sad and feel helpless over the delay in the start of the new term, especially since no opening date is in sight.

One past student said, “Father Chang may not have a democratic management style or be transparent in financial matters, but the board’s decision may be over-hasty.” He regretted the interference of the government, which he says has complicated the matter.

Another person expressed concern that if Father Chang returned as rector because of pressure from the government, the teaching staff would eventually be reshuffled.

“The seminarians suffer the most,” he said, expressing concern that the dioceses may hesitate to send young men there in the future. Some of the seminarians have gone to seminaries in their own dioceses while waiting for the dispute to be resolved.

A Church leader said the government should allow the seminary to reopen. “The board’s decision is made on the basis that the rector is not suitable. Bishops have the full authority to guide and make decisions for the seminary and the formation of future clergy. So this is purely a Church matter.”

Father Chang was appointed as the fifth rector in 2009. Reopened in 1985, the regional seminary for Shanxi province has nurtured nearly 200 priests. It currently has some 70 seminarians, plus eight full-time and five part-time teaching staff.

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