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Chinese dioceses scrutinised in state study

HONG KONG (UCAN): The findings of a three-year, state-sponsored study on the jurisdiction of Catholic dioceses in China were unveiled at an academic forum on July 18 and 19 in Zhengzhou.

The Centre for the Study of Christianity at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing and the Institute of Religious Culture Studies at Anyang Normal University in Henan jointly hosted the event.

Liu Zhiqing, the director of the Institute of Religious Culture Studies, briefed the forum on the contents of a report titled, Historical Development and Recent Situation of Dioceses in the China Church.

“So far there are not many publications in Chinese or foreign languages that have undertaken a systematic study of Catholic dioceses in China. There was only sketchy information with regards to this topic in Church history publications,” Liu said.

“Our work was to comb through the history, analyse the current situation and design for the future,” he said.

Since diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican were suspended following the expulsion of the apostolic internuncio, Archbishop Antonio Riberi, in 1951, the Vatican continues to only recognise the diocesan structures established in 1946.

This structure is recognised by the unofficial Church community, which refuses to come under the control of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Under China’s independent Church principle, the government-sanctioned official Church community began to adjust the jurisdictions of certain dioceses from the 1980s onwards.

Four Vatican recognised dioceses were combined into a new Guangxi diocese in 2002 and three dioceses in Anhui province were combined as Anhui diocese in 2001.

In some cases the Vatican has been willing to align its structure with the Beijing-led changes.

The Chinese authorities regard Bishop Qu Ailin, from Hunan, as the bishop of the entire province. But the Vatican only gave its approval to him as bishop of Changsha, the provincial capital, but at the same time appointed him apostolic administrator of the remaining eight dioceses in Hunan province.

Liu’s report suggests that the adjustment of diocesan boundaries should be based on the principles of respect for Church tradition on ecclesiastical provinces, archbishops and deaneries; improving management mechanisms; giving consideration to the position of the Patriotic Association; the fundamental structure of a diocese, the existing and newly-appointed bishops; as well as the crucial role bishops play in Church development, which may affect social stability.

The Zhengzhou forum was the second time the Centre for the Study of Christianity and the Institute of Religious Culture Studies have collaborated. The two institutes jointly held a seminar on the history of Christianity in China last October.

“For a long time, the study of the Catholic Church in China was relatively backward. We are striving to establish a platform to improve this,” Liu said. He hopes such forums will influence government policy regarding religious affairs.

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