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Father Taddeo Wang Yuesheng was ordained Bishop of Zhengzhou, China, with the approval of Pope Francis this January 25, 2024, announced the Holy See Press Office the same day. This is the sixth ‘bilateral’ appointment of a bishop since China and the Holy See signed a pastoral agreement in 2018 on the appointment of Chinese bishops.
The Holy See Press Office stated that Pope Francis had nominated Father Wang Yuesheng on December 16, 2023. However, the appointment was not made public at the time.
Bishop Wang Yuesheng was ordained by Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai, who is also the President of the Chinese Patriotic Association, the Chinese Communist Party body which oversees the ‘official’ (state-affiliated) church.
Bishop Wang Yuesheng is 58 years old and was ordained a priest in 1993. He has been president of the Henan Patriotic Association since 2011, and has been parish priest in the Huiji district of Zhengzhou for over 20 years.
His appointment is made within the framework of the pastoral agreement reached by the Vatican and Beijing in 2018, which represented a historic turning point since it was the first text signed by the two parties since Mao Zedong’s accession to power in 1949.
Temporary and valid for only two years, this agreement was meant to codify the process for appointing bishops. It was renewed in 2020 and 2022, and should be renewed again next September. In this process China, through the Patriotic Association, participates in the selection process for bishops, but the final say is supposed to be left to the Pope.
First appointment since September 2021
The last appointment of a bishop under this agreement was on September 8, 2021, for the Diocese of Wuhan.
However, recent appointments had shown certain dysfunctions; for example a Chinese bishop was installed in the Jiangxi province, while he was not recognized by the Holy See. Or also the unilateral appointment of the Bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Shen Bin, in April 2023 by the Patriotic Association that was only validated by Pope Francis three months after.
Relations between the Vatican and China may also have been disrupted by the arrest on May 11, 2022, of Cardinal Joseph Zen, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong and opponent of the pastoral agreement. He saw this accord as an abandonment of the Chinese underground Church, i.e. Catholics who do not recognize the authority of the Patriotic Association and are loyal to Rome.
The cardinal was finally sentenced to a light fine on November 25, 2022, but announced that he would appeal.
However, relations seem to have eased in recent months, as the current Bishop of Hong Kong, Stephen Chow, visited Beijing last April, followed by a visit from Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing to Hong Kong in November.
Stephen Chow was created a cardinal in September 2023.
Pope Francis, during his trip to Mongolia at the end of August, also offered his encouragement to Chinese Catholics at a Mass that was also attended by a group of Catholics who had come from China. “To Chinese Catholics: I ask you to be good Christians and good citizens,” he said.
In October 2023, two Chinese bishops were also able to participate in part of the Synod on the Future of the Church. However, they left early, in uncertain circumstances.