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One of first secretly ordained bishops dies

HONG KONG (UCAN): Bishop Casimir Wang Milu, from Tianshui in the northwest of China, suffered a stroke and later contracted pneumonia in hospital where he died on February 14 at the age of 74.

The bishop from the unofficial community of the Church was not recognised by the Chinese government. He had been hospitalised since early January, but his condition continued to deteriorate. His funeral took place on February 18.

“Bishop Casimir Wang’s health was much worse than a normal person of his age due to suffering imprisonment in his early years and his frequent travels to mountainous regions,” a person close to the bishop’s family reported.

Bishop Wang was born to a Catholic family on 24 January 1943 in Gangu county, Gansu province. Four of the family entered the religious life. His two brothers are priests with the unofficial community; Father Wang Ruohan and Bishop John Wang Ruowang, from Tianshui. His sister, Wang Tianxing is a sister.

In 1956 he entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Tianshui and was imprisoned for three years during the Cultural Revolution (1966 to 1976). Bishop Wang was among the first three bishops ordained secretly in 1981 by Bishop Joseph Fan Xueyan, from Baoding, an influential bishop who had refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Since there was strict surveillance by the state on the Church at that time, the ordinations were conducted without technical prior approval from the Vatican, but were deemed to be licit according to Church law because China was considered to be in a state of persecution at the time.

However, Pope John Paul II later granted a special faculty to the unofficial community in China for bishops to ordain successors prior to getting Vatican approval during times of persecution.

The faculty remained in place until 2007, when Pope Benedict XVI rescinded it in his letter to the Catholic people of China.

Bishop Wang was arrested again and imprisoned in 1984. After his release 10 years later, he worked in a variety of places.

The bishop was asked to retire by the Vatican in 2003, because of concerns about his mental health after a series of controversial things that he did.

“Some of the things he did after his release from prison were unfathomable. He even ordained an eight-year-old child as deacon about 20 years ago,” a Catholic from Tianshui, who identified himself as Peter, said.

Among the hearsay about the bishop was that he ordained a Buddhist lama and some men who were either married men or without theological formation.

However, the person close to the bishop’s family told a different story. “The late bishop did not ordain the lama, but only baptised him as Catholic,” he said.

“The bishop encountered the lama and found him very interested in Catholicism after both had dialogued about their faiths. The bishop left him some books on the catechism. When they encountered each other a second time, the lama expressed his hope to convert to Catholicism. So the bishop baptised him,” he said.

The person added that it was not uncommon for bishops to ordain men without sufficient formation as priests when the Church was suffering persecution during the 1980s and 1990s.

However, the person admitted that Bishop Wang had accepted problematic men as priests, including some who had been dismissed by other dioceses or seminaries, and some who were married or had illnesses.

“It has caused much disruption to diocesan pastoral work and prompted complaints from the clergy. Bishop John Wang, who succeeded him, reported those cases to the Vatican and handled those unqualified priests according to Church law,” he said.

The maverick priest from the unofficial community, Father Dong Guanhua, claimed last year that Bishop Wang had ordained him as a bishop some 10 years ago. However, his claim cannot be substantiated.

Despite his mismanagement, “I never met such a good man who had such love for the people,” Peter enthused.

“There was nothing to criticise about Bishop Wang’s morality. He was a very good parish priest, but just not so good as a bishop,” reflected.

The person close to the bishop’s family also described Bishop Wang as an enthusiastic and humble person.

“He worked to promote the faith all through the years, travelling to mountainous regions to visit the faithful. Only those friends and Catholics who were close to the bishop knew that he was a really poor man who lived a frugal life, devoted to the poor whom he baptised and offering pastoral care,” the person said.

He recalled how once in snowy weather, Bishop Wang took off his new jacket, which had been bought for him, and gave it to a poor man he met. He went home in his shirt sleeves.

The person added that he also helped educate orphans and poor children.

Tianshui was a mission area of the German Capuchins, when in 1946 Pope Pius XII made it a diocese.  The first diocesan bishop was the German Capuchin, Bishop Peter Gratian Grimm.

The Eponymous Flower website reported that when all foreign bishops and priests were expelled in 1955, Bishop Grimm went to Indonesia. When he died in 1972, Tianshui diocese became a vacant see.

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