In Mindong and Shantou, the Vatican orders Underground bishops to retire and places all Catholics under the jurisdiction of Patriotic bishops.
AsiaNews reported on December 13 that Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli went to Beijing as special envoy of Pope Francis to “accept” the resignations of the bishops of the Underground Catholic Church for the dioceses of Mindong, Mgr. Vincent Guo Xijin, and Shantou, Mgr. Peter Zhuang Jianjian. The Vatican will now recognize Mgr. Vincent Zhan Silu as bishop of Mindong and Mgr. Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop of Shantou. These are bishops of the Patriotic Catholic Church, whom the Vatican has previously excommunicated, but later pardoned as part of the Vatican-China Deal of 2018. The Vatican has asked Mgr. Guo to continue as auxiliary bishop in Mindong, under the new bishop Mgr. Zhan. However, under Chinese law, in order to do so Mgr. Guo needs the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s authorization.
It seems that in these two dioceses the Vatican-China Deal of 2018 is interpreted by both the Vatican and the CCP as leading to the merger between the two Catholic Churches that existed before the agreement, the Underground and the Patriotic, under the Patriotic bishops now recognized also by the Holy See. As the case of Mgr. Guo demonstrates, the fate of the former Underground bishops who are not old enough to retire completely and whom the Vatican would still like to use in some capacity, remains legally unclear.
As Bitter Winter has reported repeatedly, the situation in other dioceses is even more ambiguous, and priests of the Underground Catholic Church continue to be arrested.