The Vatican has expressed disappointment with the Chinese communist regime over an alleged broken deal on bishop selection.

China, on November 24, held a ceremony to install 56-year-old Bishop John Peng Weizhao as an auxiliary bishop to a Jiangxi diocese not acknowledged by the Holy See. 

In a statement issued on November 27, the Holy See Press Office said the Vatican took the news with “surprise and regret,” hoping for no further violations while awaiting an explanation. 

According to the Catholic publication AsiaNews, China has attempted to force underground churches in Yujiang District, Jiangxi province, to join the official church controlled by the Communist Party. 

Peng, an underground bishop, allegedly resigned as bishop of Yujiang in September and accepted China’s plan to unite all dioceses under one diocese. The Holy See did not recognize that plan.

The Vatican stated, “The civil recognition of Bishop Peng was preceded … by prolonged and intense pressure by the local authorities.”

The statement reiterated that the Vatican does not regard Jiangxi as a diocese and that the installation did not conform to the power-sharing agreement both sides reached in 2018.

AsiaNews noted that underground bishops installed by the Chinese regime as an auxiliary of a diocese used to reside early because they had no autonomy. Peng spent six months under arrest in 2014 after being ordained a bishop by Pope Francis. 

According to the Wall Street Journal, the estimated 10 million to 12 million Catholics in China are divided between those who are officially recognized by the state and adherents of so-called underground churches, which resists state supervision.

China has demanded religious groups bend their practices and doctrine to its dictates. AsiaNews reported that on the regime-controlled Catholic website, Peng was described as swearing to “adhere to the direction of Sinicization of Catholicism in our country, actively guide Catholicism to adapt to socialist society, and contribute to the realization of the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Since the 2018 agreement, neither the Vatican nor the CCP has consecrated bishops without the permission of the opposing party. The Journal reported that only six bishops had been ordained over the past four years, and there are still 40 Chinese dioceses without a bishop.

The bishop deal has been criticized as a sell-out to the CCP.

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