Additional details and links available via a September 15 post to Shanghai Scrap.
[Update 9/19: It does, indeed, appear that the Vatican is going to take the pragmatic approach in regard to Beijing’s new bishop. That is, make positive noises, but neither confirm nor deny the Pope’s mandate. In that way, nobody is offended, and the diplomacy and relationship with Beijing can be deepened. According to a Reuters story reprinted in today’s South China Morning Post [subscriber only]:
“This should be a favourable step forward, a good occasion to build on something,” a Vatican official said … “There is absolutely no bitterness … We are tranquil [about the appointment] and we are full of hope …
The Vatican regards the new state-backed bishop of Beijing in a positive light and hopes his appointment will help improve often-strained relations with the government, an official said yesterday.
[Update 9/18: AsiaNews cites unnamed sources that Fr. Li has, in fact, received approval from the Pope while noting that “other sources stated that they were not aware of that.” I am inclined to believe the AsiaNews report for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that AsiaNews has some of the best and deepest sourcing on the China Church beat. And those sources have no good reason to mis-inform the publication. Also, there is little question that – out of respect for the sensitivities of the authorities in Beijing – the Vatican would like to keep a low-profile in this situation. To be sure, the Pope’s June 30 letter requires Chinese bishops to make public their relationship with Rome; but, on the other hand, the Vatican has shown an unusual degree of pragmatism in its recent dealings with Beijing, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that pragmatism is invoked in the case of this ordination. Father, soon-to-be-bishop Li is 42-years-old; there will be time enough for him to reveal his status in way that doesn’t rankle the (still) important Beijing religious authorities.
But I think the most important evidence in regard to Li’s relationship with the Vatican is the relative silence – compared to the three 2006 illicit ordinations. In those cases – and especially in advance of the Kuming and Wuhu ordinations – the Vatican made private and very public efforts to delay or halt the ordinations due to their illicit nature (these condemnations were covered in the media in advance of the ordinations). Notably, there has been no public condemnation of the upcoming ordination from the Vatican or its representatives; and that, to my mind, says quite a bit.]
[UPDATE 9/17: Agence France-Presse [AFP] continues to set new lows for the coverage of religion in China. Earlier this week I pointed to AFP’s totally false and ridiculous report that the ordination of Guiyang’s new bishop could set off a “new Vatican row” – in spite of the fact that the Pope publicly approved the ordination. Then, today, in an otherwise fine report on the release of a dissident, the AFP incorrectly claims that the Amity publishing house in Nanjing is the only licensed publisher and distributor of Bibles in China. It is not. There are others, including the Guanxi Press – belonging to the Shanghai Catholic diocese – and responsible for the publication of roughly 1 million bibles since the late 1980s.
But those mistakes are all topped by the AFP’s claims in regard to Beijing’s bishop-to-be:
Previous reports have said that while Li was named to the post without formal Vatican consent, the Holy See approved of the choice.
And where, pray tell, did the AFP get this information that nobody else seems to have?
In July, the Catholic World News quoted Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone as calling Li “a very good and qualified individual.”
Somebody really needs to inform the AFP that positive comments from the Secretary of State are not equivalent to the Pope’s mandate. And somebody else should really tell the AFP that – until further notice – the headline “China to install new Vatican-approved bishop” is inaccurate. It may very well turn out to be true in the coming days – but AFP has no way of knowing that.