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Bishop in Shaanxi accused of corruption

HONG KONG (UCAN): A group of priests in Hanzhong in Shaanxi province has accused 85-year-old Bishop Louis Yu Runshen of corruption and are demanding that he step down.

A letter signed by 20 of the 27 priests in the diocese, including the coadjutor bishop, 87-year-old Bishop Matthias Yu Chengxin, who is partially paralysed, was sent to Bishop Louis Yu.

Bishop Matthias Yu clarified that he was only signing as a priest of the diocese and not the coadjutor bishop. His position gives him the right of succession if Bishop Louis Yu does render his resignation and it is accepted by the Vatican.

Each of the 20 priests signed and thumb-printed the letter dated 22 November 2016.

They are also asking the government to investigate six issues they say violate the Regulations for Religious Affairs and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

Bishop Louis Yu denies the allegations, blaming clerical ambition on the part of two or three priests in the diocese instead. He commented, “Two to three priests want to be bishop and forced their fellow priests to sign the letter.”

Three of the issues outlined in the letter are related to corruption and mismanagement of Church assets. The letter says the bishop’s action has diminished the ability of the clergy to operate and caused large financial losses to the diocese that has a Catholic population of some 15,000 people.

They allege that Bishop Louis Yu sold a property owned by the diocese in Wuhan City at way below its market value last July. The letter says that this was done without the consent of all the priests and without following the documented rules on handling assets.

Bishop Louis Yu countered by saying that the Wuhan property was sold for around 14 million yuan ($16.8 million). “There was no discussion on how much it should be sold for and now they blame me,” he said.

The letter claims that Bishop Louis Yu received an annual subsidy of US$5,000 ($38,750) from the Holy See, but surrendered it only once to the curia. It also accuses him of putting the annual profit of 20,000 yuan ($24,000) generated from a Church-run hostel into his own hip pocket.

However, Bishop Louis Yu denies receiving any money from the Vatican or the hostel run by Xi’an diocese.

The priests go on to allege that the bishop has been taking advantage of a redevelopment project at the Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel to buy an apartment for his adopted grandnephew.

They claim that the apartment is worth more than 500,000 yuan ($600,000). In addition, they claim that a redevelopment project has shrunk the grounds of the cathedral from 10,000 square metres to just 2,666 square metres, giving no explanation as to why this happened.

While the letter does not give any explanation of the redevelopment project, it does stress that the apartment the accused bishop bought for his grandnephew has nothing to do with the diocese.

The priests also level the charge of age at the bishop, saying that according to Church law, at 85-years-of age he should have already retired, while adding the barb that this would be good for the welfare of the diocese as well.

Church law demands that bishops tender their resignation to the pope at the age of 75, but it is then up to the pontiff as to whether he accepts it or not. Bishop Louis Yu has yet to contact the pope.

The priests further accuse the bishop of sowing discord among the priests in relation to his successor, but Bishop Louis Yu says talk of retirement is unrelated to the complaint letter.

“I have written to the Vatican telling them of my intention to retire. They told me to tender a formal resignation. My letter has not been sent, as I am busy due to the Chinese New Year holidays,” Bishop Yu commented. “I will do so a few days later,” he promised.

But one Church worker says that the bishop goes around telling others that a certain priest wants to be the next bishop.

“The other clergy then see that priest as being ambitious and they isolate him. He has done this to hurt several priests already,” the Church worker, who asked not to be named, said.

The person added that provincial government officials are also unhappy with the bishop, as he would give them one name today and change his mind the next day when they asked him for a list of candidates several years ago.

The person surmised that the provincial government knows he does not want to retire.

Bishop Yu has only nominated priests that he ordained himself, consistently overlooking those who were ordained by the late Bishop Bartholomew Yu Chengdi, the bishop of the unofficial Church community in Hanzhong, who died in 2009.

The person pointed out that this seems strange, as many of them enjoyed a higher level of respect from Catholics than the ones he nominated himself.

The official and unofficial communities made a decision to merge into one community in 2005, on the occasion of the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II.

But the priests are also accusing Bishop Louis Yu of erratic behaviour, appointing and dismissing members of diocesan organisations arbitrarily.

The Church worker said he believes that the government has decided to settle the matter of his successor this year and has already questioned a few possible candidates.

Meanwhile, the clergy have all made it known that they want a general election. “They simply don’t have confidence to let an irresponsible bishop pick his successor,” the person pointed out.

“Among the 27 diocesan priests, three chose not to sign and four were out of reach,” the person explained.

But one priest who did sign the letter confessed that he now feels “uncomfortable with the way we treated Bishop Yu, even though the contents of the letter are true.”

It appears that the government learned about the letter a week after it was signed and thumb-printed, but news of its content only started to spread recently via the Internet chat groups.

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