China to continue ordaining bishops, clerics without Vatican blessing

(Photo: REUTERS / Kim Kyung-Hoon)Children attend a Christmas mass at a Catholic church in Beijing December 24, 2014. Christmas is not a traditional festival in China but is growing in popularity, especially in more metropolitan areas where young people go out to celebrate, give gifts and decorate their homes.

China will elect and ordain bishops without the approval of the Vatican, a move that might continue to aggravate already tense relations between the Holy See and the communist nation.

The head of China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) revealed the plans of the bureau in its website on January 15, saying that "2015 will be a very important year for religious work."

"[The work of SARA] must be done according to religious regulations, promote the rule of law and take the opinion of the faithful into consideration when implementing religious policies and directions of the central government," said SARA director Wang Zuoan reported.

Among issues Wang cited is the Communist Party's support for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and its bishops' conference electing and ordaining bishops independent of Rome.

China's insistence on installing bishops without Rome's concurrence has strained relations between Beijing and the Vatican, which insists on naming its own church leaders.

The SARA working plan indicated that episcopal ordinations would continue regardless of the Holy See giving its blessing.

The plan also entails the State-backed bishops' conference and the CPCA holding the National Catholic Representatives Congress, a major event intended to "strengthen their leadership-building and promote democracy in running the Catholic Church."

Composed of the clergy, religious and lay people, the congress convenes every five years and the body oversees both the CPCA and the bishops' association.

The SARA working plan revealed the overseeing of all religious personnel working in church venues to promote "the rule of law." To address accountability, religious venues and seminaries are instructed to open their bank accounts.

Faculty members working at the National Seminary in Beijing are to be conferred work certificates, while seminarians are to get bachelor's degrees, according to the working plan.

Religious leaders in China convened in a meeting from December 26 to 27, and its output was the working plan, Wang said.

Pope Francis has indicated his willingness to visit Beijing in the hopes of mending relations between China and the Holy See. But with the plans of China to proceed without the Vatican's imprimatur, tensions between the two countries are likely to continue.

This contrasts with Vietnam, another communist country, which has recently restored diplomatic relations with the Holy See.

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