In global diplomacy, as in chess, sometimes you’ve just got to sideline your bishop.
Bishop detained ahead of Vatican-China deal
A Vatican-approved bishop in China was detained briefly by the Chinese authorities on Monday.
This comes as the Holy See and Beijing work on a contentious agreement to pave the way towards normalizing relations.
Bishop Guo Xijin was taken from his home on Monday and released the next day, according to AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency based in Rome.
Quoting local sources, AsiaNews reported that Guo had refused to concelebrate – jointly officiate – mass with Zhan Shilu, a government-sanctioned bishop.
Guo is approved by the Vatican but not recognized by Beijing. That means Guo pledges loyalty only to Rome but not the Chinese state.
“If Bishop Guo was asked to concelebrate with him, according to Church law, he has to refuse. He was right in refusing,” Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a member of the Vatican Commission for the Church in China, tells Inkstone.
Father Heyndrickx supports the deal between the Holy See and Beijing, but he also finds the detention of Guo alarming. “If this is what happened, and if it is for these reasons that Bishop Guo was abducted, then this is indeed once again an event that causes us to worry.”
This isn’t the first time Guo has been detained by authorities. Last year, the bishop was taken away on Easter Saturday, only reappearing after 20 days.
Over and Under
The 59-year-old bishop is at the eye of the storm as the Vatican and Beijing, which ceased diplomatic relations in 1951, are close to sealing a historic agreement.
The imminent accord will address the appointment of bishops, the biggest stumbling between the Vatican and Beijing. It’s being presented as a breakthrough which will pave the way for the normalization of Vatican-China relations.
The Catholic community in China has long been split into two factions: the “above-ground” or official churches which are supervised by the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and the “underground” churches which pledge allegiance to the Vatican.
Guo was ordained with the Vatican's blessing as the bishop of Mindong diocese in the southeastern province of Fujian in 2016. But he isn’t recognized by the Chinese government.
As the negotiations advance, Guo had been asked by the Vatican to take up the position of auxiliary bishop – a demotion – to make way for the government-sanctioned Bishop Zhan. Guo said he was willing to do so.
To make things even more complicated, Zhan had been excommunicated by the church because he was consecrated as a bishop without papal approval.
Apart from Guo, Bishop Zha Jiguo and Helongjiang priests, who all serve underground churches, were taken away recently, according to AsiaNews.
The Roman Catholic Church has been criticized for being overeager to strike a deal with China. Guo's detention, no matter how brief, does little to quell skepticism.
The chess game continues, and the bishops seem more like pawns.