Beijing: The government body that controls the Catholic Church in China says it is investigating the selection of a bishop who cut his ties to the group as soon as he was ordained, in an embarrassment to Beijing that could deepen its rift with the Vatican.
Shanghai`s auxiliary Bishop Ma Daqin announced that he was leaving the Catholic Patriotic Association at the end of his ordination ceremony on Saturday, saying he wished to fully devote himself to his duties as bishop.
The move marked the biggest public challenge to Beijing`s control over the Catholic clergy in years. The Vatican does not recognise the Catholic Patriotic Association and says the Chinese church should take its orders directly from Rome.
Ma`s announcement was greeted with applause by hundreds of worshippers in Shanghai`s Cathedral of St Ignatius, the sea of one of China`s largest, wealthiest and most independent dioceses. But he has not been seen since.
Ma, 44, was reported to be being held in isolation at a seminary. The Shanghai diocese said he had applied for and received permission to go into retreat beginning on Sunday.
The Patriotic Association issued a two-sentence statement late yesterday saying it was investigating violations of regulations in the selection of bishops in relation to Saturday`s ordination.
Patriotic Association spokesman Yang Yu refused to provide further details today, saying to do so "might affect or influence public opinion" about an ongoing investigation. "It is not convenient to release the details now," Yang said.
Hong Kong-based Catholic activist Anthony Lam said China`s response to Ma`s announcement would make reconciliation between the sides even harder. The onus was on Beijing to explain its actions, he said.
"Obviously the event will cause problems in the process of normalization of the China-Vatican relationship," Lam said.
The government`s options in Ma`s case appear limited. Barring him from his open episcopal duties could strengthen the status of the underground church that operates alongside the open church in most areas in defiance of government control.