China gains new Vatican-backed bishop

The ordination of Fr Peter Ding Lingbin as Bishop of Changzhi has taken place in China. The November 10 event, approved by the Holy See, was attended by at least 2,000 faithful, including numerous priests and nuns who travelled from neighbouring dioceses to attend the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Changzhi is home to some 50,000 Catholics.

The ordaining prelates on the day were all drawn from the so-called underground Church which remains loyal to Rome, though the papal letter penned to Bishop Lingbin was read in private, while public congratulations were communicated by the Beijing-approved council of bishops.

Having been approved for a bishopric over two years ago by Rome, approval for Bishop Lingbin’s elevation only came from the Chinese authorities in the last few weeks. Observers of the Church in China have interpreted this approval as a sign that progress is at last being made on Rome-Beijing relations.

Meanwhile, the Vatican has reacted to “a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without papal mandate” elsewhere in China.

Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office, said in a statement on November 7 that “The Holy See has not authorised any ordination, nor has it been officially informed of such events. Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.”

The reports from China appear to centre on underground priest, Fr Dong Guan Hua, who is said to have arranged to be ordained by an elderly bishop, and then offered to consecrate other bishops in turn. Father Dong was previously excommunicated by Bishop Julius Jia Zhigou of Zhengding because of prior acts of insubordination.