Pope and bishops in China

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Catholic News Service

Question Corner

Question: I was surprised to read in the Catholic press an article criticizing Pope Francis' agreement to allow the Communist government to nominate candidates for bishops in China. So my question is this: Are those under the pope's authority allowed to question publicly such an arrangement made by the Holy Father? (Newark, Ohio)

Answer: The answer to your question is "Yes," but first some important background.

The provisional agreement that you reference was made in September 2018 after years of careful negotiation. Previous to that, in a dispute going back for more than half a century, mainland China's some 12 million Catholics were more or less equally divided between an underground organization that recognized the pope's authority to name bishops and a state-supported Patriotic Association that named its own bishops.

Under the 2018 agreement, the excommunication of seven bishops who had been ordained with government approval was lifted, and new bishops are now proposed to the Vatican by the Chinese government after it receives input from the Chinese bishops' conference and Catholics from the areas involved. Then the pope makes the final decision as to whom to appoint, essentially giving the pontiff veto power.

As a result of the new agreement, all of the Catholic bishops in the world's most populous country are now in communion with Rome, and Catholics will have more autonomy in the exercise of their beliefs. The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said at the time that the agreement helps to give the church "a greater freedom" so that it can dedicate itself to "the mission of announcing the Gospel."

The church's decision to enter the agreement was a prudential and pastoral one with which anyone is free to disagree. In fact, one of the strongest critics when the agreement was being considered was Cardinal Joseph Zen, the retired archbishop of Hong Kong.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.