Father Joseph Yue Fusheng is to be ordained as bishop of Heilongjiang without papal mandate, according to Church sources.
The 48-year-old priest was elected as a bishop candidate in 1999 and reconfirmed during a meeting on May 16.
Authorities may be pushing his Episcopal ordination regardless of its violation of Canon law, the sources said.
“The confirmation [in May] was made by a show of hands. All 64 representatives, including 36 priests, supported Fr Yue, though one voted against and one abstained from the vote,” said one source.
However another source said “some of the priests did not raise their hands during the vote.”
Government officials monitored the confirmation meeting, and sources present described the atmosphere as tense, adding that government vehicles were used to convey priests to their homes.
Fr Yue is vice-chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), an organization that Pope Benedict XVI has described as incompatible with Catholic Church doctrine.
Fr Yue is the only clergy in the CCPA leadership who remains a priest.
Two other vice chairs, Fr Joseph Huang Bingzhang and Fr Paul Lei Shiyin, were ordained bishops of Shantou and Leshan last year, respectively, without papal mandate.
They were subsequently excommunicated.
Some Church sources say they were not surprised to hear of Fr Yue’s pending Episcopal ordination, as it was only a matter of time.
“This illicit ordination might take place on June 29, like last year’s ordination in Leshan, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, as an act of defiance since the Universal Church is united at that time in celebration of the Successor of Peter,” one source said.
The source added that the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in the provincial capital Harbin is currently under renovation, “a sign that it will likely be the ordination venue.”
Other sources said they were concerned that the illicit ordination would endanger efforts to reconcile the “open” and “underground” Catholic communities, as well as the Church in China and the Universal Church.
Some observers have said it would not be advisable for the government to further provoke tensions among Chinese Catholics during a year that will see a transition of power in the Communist Party.
Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar, the only Vatican-approved bishop in the province, said he has asked God to bless the “official” Church community so that “they can do what God likes them to do.”
Fr Yue was born in 1964 in Hebei province and was ordained a priest in 1988.
The government-sanctioned official Church structure created a new Harbin diocese by merging all ecclesiastical territories in Heilongjiang province in 1959 and renamed it Heilongjiang diocese in 1983.
The Holy See does not recognize the new diocese.