It was a twisted path that led to the inclusion of Bishops Yang Yongqiang of Zhouchun and Yao Shun of Jining in the (second) list of Synod members.
by Massimo Introvigne
The Catholic Church will celebrate what many regard as its most important Synod of Bishops ever starting October 4, where prelates from all over the world will discus the synodal nature of the Church and the relationships between the local churches and the Vatican.
While two Chinese delegates attended the previous Synod in 2018, when a list of participants was released in early July no Bishop from Mainland China was included. However, a few days before the Synod opens, a second list has been published. This time, it includes Bishops Yang Yongqiang of Zhouchun, Shandong, and Yao Shun of Jining, Inner Mongolia.
The two are loyal “patriotic” bishops. Yao was the Spiritual Director of the National Seminary of the government-controlled Patriotic Catholic Church when it was clearly separated from the Vatican, in the 1990s, and was then widely regarded as the key member of the Patriotic Church’s Liturgical Commission. He became in 2019 the first bishop ordained after the Vatican-China deal of 2018. When that agreement was signed, Bishop Yang was the Vice President of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association since 2016, after having occupied leadership positions in the Patriotic Church at the provincial level.
On the other hand, it should be recognized that the choice of Yang and Yao, probably coming from the CCP, which authorizes such trips, is somewhat conciliatory towards the Vatican. Their episcopal appointments had been among those secretly approved by Rome under Pope Benedict XVI, in 2010. Although not in any way a dissident, Yao was denied permission to visit the independent Mongolia from Chinese Inner Mongolia during the recent Papal trip to the Mongolian Republic.
Why were bishops from Mainland China included in the second list of synod participants in September but not in the first one in July? The answer is that the CCP, in violation of the Vatican-China deal of 2018, had installed Bishop Shen Bin, until then Bishop of Haimen, as the new Bishop of Shanghai without Rome’s approval. The Vatican had protested, which probably led the CCP to deny the authorization for any Chinese Bishop to travel to Rome for the Synod. Only after Pope Francis accepted the nomination of Shen Bin in Shanghai the CCP changed its mind and allowed the participation of two Bishops to the Synod, picking up two who should not raise eyebrows in Rome—or less than others.
As usual, it is a carrot and stick game. Those who appreciate the carrot should consider that the stick is never far away.