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Family denies late Bishop Wang was a secret cardinal

HONG KONG (UCAN): The rumour mill, which can run rampant around the Church in China, became so strong and complex around the time of the death of Bishop Casimir Wang Milu on February 14 that his younger brother, Bishop John Wang Ruowang, did not feel free to preside at the funeral ceremony of his older brother.

Rumours were spreading on social media that Bishop Casimir Wang, the former bishop of the diocese his brother now heads, was in fact the bishop that Pope John Paul II had named a cardinal in pectore (secretly) in 2003.

Popes on occasions have named cardinals secretly, mostly in countries where revealing their identity may place the recipient in danger, but the names are usually revealed within a few years.

The practice is mostly to leave a legacy of the reverence for the bishop held by the pope for the benefit of historians, but if the name is never revealed, as in the case of the one he named in 2003, the title of the person dies with the pope who named him.

Bishop John Wang said that even though neither he nor his brother have had recognition from the government, the authorities had given him permission to preside at his older brother’s funeral and bury him according to the rites of the Catholic Church, but because of the cardinal rumour, he did not feel free to do so.

In the event, the funeral service was conducted on February 18 by a Father Pan, from northeastern China, who had been ordained by the late bishop.

Banners had been strung, by unknown people, across the house where Bishop Casimir Wang used to live, proclaiming, “Tribute to Chinese Cardinal Wang Milu’s graduation ceremony” and “Cardinal Wang Milu, great knight of China.”

A person close to the Wang family described the banners as disrespectful and insulting to the late bishop. “He was never a cardinal and describing his death as a graduation is too ridiculous,” the person said.

“The family did not want to disrupt the funeral and feared that some people might react radically if they took the banners down, so they just left them hanging there,” the person explained.

Nevertheless, as images of the banners spread on social media so did the rumours that the bishop was a secret cardinal, even though people from both the unofficial and official Church communities across China criticised or mocked the claim.

It was a dilemma for Bishop John Wang, who thought some might interpret him presiding over the funeral as endorsing the rumour.

“I did not know Bishop Casimir Wang was a cardinal and I think I am not qualified to preside over a Mass or liturgy publicly for a cardinal,” Bishop John Wang said in a statement.

“From now on, clergy whom I do not know will not be allowed to address themselves as priests of Tianshui nor will they be able to administer sacraments in the diocese,” he added.

The Vatican asked Bishop Casimir Wang to retire in 2003 because of a series of controversial acts and concerns over his mental health.

There were rumours that he ordained some men who were either married or without theological formation as priests, as well as a young boy as a deacon and a Buddhist lama.

A friend of the family denied the rumour about the lama, saying that he baptised him, while pointing out that it was not uncommon for bishops in the unofficial Church communities to ordain men that were simply not qualified.

In addition, the rumour that he had been acclaimed a cardinal more than 10 years ago has been around for some time, but the person close to the Wang family recalled that Bishop Casimir Wang denied it when some people asked him.

“Bishop John Wang had also asked his brother to issue a statement clarifying the rumour, but the elderly bishop thought he did not need to,” the friend of the family explained.

The only known bishop in China named as a cardinal in pectore by Pope John Paul II was Bishop Ignatius Gong Pinmei, from Shanghai. He was elevated to the rank in 1989, but it was revealed in 1991. Cardinal Gong spent 30 years in prison, but went to the United States of America after his release.

Others were Archbishop Marian Jaworski, from Lviv in the Ukraine; and Archbishop Jãnis Pujãts, from Riga in Lativia. But both names were subsequently revealed.

The fourth one was never revealed, so whomever the person involved was, he is no longer a cardinal.

The only achievement of the rumours about Bishop Casimir Wang was to prevent his brother from mourning his death in a manner appropriate for a priest of the same family.

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