Tension is mounting and divisions appearing in Shantou diocese, said Church sources today, in advance of a scheduled episcopal ordination on July 14.
The bishop candidate in the dioccese in southern Guangdong province, Father Joseph Huang Binzhuang, 44, has not received the papal mandate.
Vatican-appointed Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, whom the government recognizes only as a priest, is currently under surveillance.
The other four bishops in Guangdong, all Vatican-approved, are reportedly under pressure.
They are aware of the grave canonical sanction announced by the Vatican against the illicit ordination of Leshan diocese, said sources close to these prelates.
“Our bishop has expressed to the officials he is unwilling to go as the ordination is not approved by the Vatican and the consecrating bishops of the Leshan ordination are facing severe punishment,” said one of the sources.
“The officials told our bishop not to worry as the government will back him and he is not alone because several other bishops will also participate,” he said.
After being injured in a car accident in May, Bishop Zhuang, 81, cannot move around and has to rest at his church in Jiexi county. Government officials often come to his church to check on him.
Father Huang has refused to meet the old bishop, who has called and written to dissuade the priest from receiving ordination, a Church source said.
Bishop Zhuang insisted he will “never submit to pressure but continue to preserve the Church’s principles and remain in communion with the pope,” the source stressed.
In northeastern China, priests of Liaoning (Shenyang) diocese are preventing their Bishop, Paul Pei Junmin, from presiding over the ordination. The Vatican-approved prelate is a vice-president of the government-sanctioned bishops’ conference.
Liaoning sources said that at a special meeting yesterday, all of the 80-odd diocesan priests said their bishop should not attend the Shantou ordination. They signed a declaration to express their strong opposition and are ready to submit to the government.
Bishop Pei, who attended the illicit ordination in Chengde last year, also said he would not attend the upcoming ordination in front of his priests. The diocese is now negotiating with officials and trying to protect the bishop from being taken away by them, sources said.
Father Huang, 44, won the bishop’s election on May 11. The process was monitored by government officials and some voters had to cast their ballots against their conscience, Church sources said.
Since then, some priests and laypeople who support Father Huang have praised his significant contribution and are trying to justify him as the most suitable leader of Shantou diocese. They even question the legitimacy of Bishop Zhuang’s episcopal status, noting that he “has never gone through a bishop-election process.”