By Phillip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – The Vatican on Saturday accused Chinese authorities of violating a bilateral pact on the appointment of bishops by installing one in a diocese not recognized by the Holy See.
According to a statement, the Vatican learned with “surprise and regret” that the bishop of another district had been appointed as auxiliary bishop or assistant bishop in Jiangxi.
The unauthorized installation turned out to be one of the most serious violations of a 2018 agreement between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops.
China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The accord, which some Catholics described as a sell-out to China’s communist authorities, was last extended for a two-year period in October. The details are still secret.
Jiangxi is not recognized as a diocese by the Vatican, the statement said, adding that the installation did not “conform to the spirit of dialogue” agreed by both sides in 2018.
It said, without elaborating, that the installation of the bishop, Giovanni Peng Weizhao, followed “strong pressure from local authorities”.
AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency, said Peng was secretly ordained a bishop with papal approval in 2014, four years before the accord, and then served six months in detention.
The Vatican was expecting a statement from Chinese authorities and hoped that “similar episodes will not be repeated,” the statement said.
The deal was an attempt to lessen a long-standing rift in mainland China between an underground herd loyal to the pope and a state-backed official church. For the first time since the 1950s, both parties recognized the pope as supreme leader of the Catholic Church.
Critics, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, 90, the former Archbishop of Hong Kong, have denounced it for making too many concessions to China.
The Vatican’s statement came a day after a Hong Kong court found Zen and five others guilty of failing to register a now-disbanded fund for pro-democracy protesters.
Only six new bishops have been appointed since the deal was struck, detractors say, proving it is not having the desired effects. They also point to increasing restrictions on religious freedom in China for Christians and other minorities.
When the deal was last renewed, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the chief architect, said that while the achievements since 2018 “may seem small”, in the context of a conflicting history, they were “significant steps towards the gradual healing of the wounds.” inflicted” on the Chinese Church.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Singapore; Editing by Mark Heinrich and David Holmes)