A Vatican-approved bishop of the “open” Church has been suspended from his post by the government for his failure to participate in an illicit episcopal ordination in Shantou diocese earlier this year.
Bishop Paul Pei Junmin of Liaoning (Shenyang) was “suspended from his posts as vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) in mid-August and as head of the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and the Church Affairs Commission of Liaoning in September,” said a reliable Church source who declined to be named.
Since late September, inaccurate reports have circulated on Catholic blog sites and online chat groups that Bishop Pei had resigned his posts.
The Church source said that government officials took disciplinary action against the 42-year-old bishop after he failed to preside over the episcopal ordination of Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou, who had no papal mandate.
However, Father Joseph Yang Yu, spokesman of the CPA and BCCCC, denied that Bishop Pei had been sanctioned.
“There is no announcement on our website,” he said, adding that Bishop Pei’s name and biography remain on the site.
Bishop Pei reportedly attended under pressure a previous illicit ordination in Chenge last November. He was subsequently elected vice president of the BCCCC during the National Congress of Catholic Representatives in December.
A week before the Shantou ordination on July 14 this year, about 80 diocesan priests gathered at Bishop Pei’s house to prevent him from being taken away by government officials.
The ordination was finally presided over by Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao of Linyi, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Assocation (CCPA).
The Church source said Bishop Pei is now confined to his house and not allowed to meet other priests or visit parishes.
Parish priests and nuns have expressed concern that another illicit ordination in Heilongjiang (Harbin) diocese might lead officials to pressure their bishop again to attend.
A China-based Church observer who also declined to be named over security fears said Bishop Pei was the first member of the new leadership of the BCCCC to decline presiding over an illicit ordination.
The observer said that Beijing might think Bishop Pei has exerted more influence than others who have sought to avoid such ordinations.
The government knows that if it turns a blind eye to this, it would face greater resistance in continuing to push for so-called “self-election and self-ordination” of bishops, the observer said.
While noting that it was too early to say if the government’s suspension of Bishop Pei was effective, the observer said the bishop would hardly be able to avoid future illicit ordinations, and that his position reflects the dilemma facing all bishops in the government-sanctioned open community.
Earlier this year, Bishop Joseph Li Liangui of Cangzhou (Xianxian) was dismissed from his post in the Political Consultative Conference of Hebei province as punishment for his absence from the national congress.