Newly-ordained Catholic bishop in China detained

Published: Tuesday, July 10 2012 1:08 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A newly-ordained auxiliary Catholic bishop in China is being detained by the government there.

Recent reports say Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin is being held in the Sheshan Seminary, the old church on the outskirts of Shanghai where he trained to be a priest.

Bishop Ma disappeared after he challenged the authority of the state-run body that controls the church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which had ordained him to the post. Bishop Ma told about 1,000 congregants Saturday, the same day he was ordained, that his new responsibilities wouldn't allow him to continue to serve on the CPCA.

"After you take up the ministry and become auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, there's a lot going on," Bishop Ma told the congregation, according to a video of the service. "Heart and mind should be completely devoted to ministering and spreading the good word. Some posts are not convenient to continue to hold. So, from this day, this time of holy celebration, it is no longer convenient for me to continue to be a member of the Patriotic Association."

The congregation responded with applause.

The newly ordained bishop also declined to share the Communion chalice with a bishop who had been invalidly ordained with the government’s approval, according to the website CatholicCulture.org, which reported that Bishop Ma was "arrested" for his actions.

A close friend has told the BBC that Bishop Ma has been forced to undertake "a period of reflection" in private, and one that might last for months.

"He has chosen belief over freedom," the friend said.

Some news reports say that Bishop Ma sent a text message to priests and nuns saying he was "mentally and physically exhausted" and needed to make a "personal retreat."

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times explained that the weekend's events were a sign of rising tensions between Beijing and Rome, which have long wrestled with who should lead the nation's estimated 9 million Catholics.

On Friday, government officials organized the ordination of the Rev. Joseph Yue Fusheng as bishop in the northern city of Harbin without the Vatican's approval. On Saturday in Shanghai, Ma — whose nomination was accepted by both Beijing and Rome — was ordained as auxiliary bishop, which The Times said would put him in line to succeed Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, 95, who had been approved by both Beijing and Rome.

In a statement Tuesday, the Vatican said Bishop Ma's ordination "is encouraging and is to be welcomed" but said Bishop Yue was ordained "illicitly" and received the traditional penalty, which is excommunication.

Other bishops who attended the ordination ceremony of Bishop Yue had "exposed themselves to the sanctions laid down by the law of the church" and "must give an account to the Holy see of their participation," the statement said.

The New York Times cited reports that bishops loyal to the Vatican were forced to participate — a common practice meant to give Beijing-appointed bishops legitimacy in the eyes of local believers. The Vatican immediately excommunicated Bishop Yue.

The BBC says Chinese Catholics are divided between the state-sanctioned church and an "underground" church that rejects the role of the party and the state in its affairs. Members of the underground church face surveillance and sometimes arrest.

"But for a bishop who has risen to prominence in the official church as a senior member of the CPCA to seemingly turn on the organisation is very rare indeed," the BBC reported. "And to do so in such a public way would therefore probably be seen as a direct challenge to the authority of the Chinese state to involve itself in church affairs."

In the 1990's and early 2000's, most bishops were selected by Beijing but also approved by Rome. Since 2006, however, an estimated six bishops have been consecrated without Rome’s approval, the Times reported.

"We are happy that somebody has started to say no, because we cannot always say yes, and [the Chinese government] is really setting up an independent church," Cardinal Joseph Zen, former bishop of Hong Kong, told the Journal.

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