CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Bishop of Nanning accused of embezzlement

HONG KONG (UCAN): Bishop Joseph Tan Yanquan of Nanning in Guangxi province, China, has been accused of embezzling Church money and of owing huge debts after a property investment failure.
 
He is suspected of embezzling 27 million yuan ($31 million) to open at least five private companies, using Church development to illegally raise funds and selling property illegally.
 
More than 200 priests, religious sisters, Church personnel and Catholics of the diocese sent a joint letter to the municipal ethnic and religious affairs committee requesting a thorough investigation of the bishop’s finances.
 
A copy was also sent to the municipal party committee of the United Front Work Department, as Bishop Tan is the statutory legal representative of the municipal Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
 
The letter accused the bishop of using Church finances “assertively and peremptorily, putting the relevant national financial and economic laws and regulations behind.” It noted that the financial situation of the diocese is no longer sustainable for maintaining the normal operations.
 
“The diocese has not been able to pay basic living expenses, medical insurance and pension premiums since last August and could not even afford the medical fees of a diocesan priest who has been seriously ill,” a source, named John, explained.
 
According to authorities of the official Church, Guangxi one of several dioceses under Bishop Tan, who was recognised by the government in 2003. However, the Holy See maintains that he is only the bishop of the Diocese of Nanning.
 
It was decided to sue the bishop in December after he was found to have agreed to let a property company rebuild the Sacred Heart Church and sell part of the new building. 
 
Peter, another source, said that the bishop signed a contact without authorisation with the Nanning Qiai Property Service Co. last October to rebuild the church.
 
Nobody was aware of exactly what had happened until unfamiliar people were seen coming in and out of the church after Christmas.
 
It was planned to redevelop the three-story building into a 20-floor structure. The second floor was to house the church and the fourth floor was to be a residence for priests and religious sisters. The other floors would have been used for stores, apartments and a sky garden.
 
“The church would only be used by us on Saturdays and Sundays, while on other days it would be operated by a wedding company,” Peter said.
 
The unit rate was allegedly more than 7,000 yuan ($8,116) per square metre. Peter said units from the 9th to 11th floors have were sold out. Buyers paid 110,000 yuan ($127,000) as a down payment.
 
He said that buyers had rights for 53 years. “It means that several generations of a family can live there. It could be said that the bishop has sold the church,” he said.
On 28 December 2018, priests and lay people blocked the main entrance to prevent the developer from entering and called the police. 
 
On January 5, large construction machines arrived, but the government was asked to intervene.
 
On January 6, officials from municipal ethnic and religious affairs committee ruled that the church could not be demolished.
 
The construction workers have left, but John stressed: “The matter cannot be resolved like this.”
 
Peter said buyers have asked for refunds. “We take them to the police station because the church could not help the bishop pay off his debts,” he said.
 
John said the bishop is head of at least five companies and has shares in more than a dozen others. “And he personally owes tens of millions of debts as well,” he said.

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