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Three bishops among assembly that made Xi Jinping president for life

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Beijing (AsiaNews) – There were Catholic bishops among the delegates of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC) that on 11 March took the historic decision to accept 21 amendments to the Chinese Constitution, including one that allows an infinite term of office for President of the State and to add the so-called “Thought of Xi Jinping” in the Preamble.

The most significant change in the fifth amendment in the history of the Chinese constitution is the “sanweiyiti” (three offices in one person) which consists in unifying the three main roles: Party General Secretary, President of State and President of the Central Military Commission , all without time limits.

The most significant change in the fifth amendment to China’s Constitution in history is the “sanweiyiti,” which is to align the three top posts– Party General Secretary, State President and Chairman of the Central Military Commission–all without a term limit.

Before the amendment, the post of State President is limited to a maximum of two 5-year terms. The Global Times noted that changing the constitution did not necessarily mean “that the Chinese president will have a lifelong tenure.” However, the news has aroused great controversy in and outside China since late February. Those who opposed an indefinite term mocked Xi as “forever Emperor Xi.” The label was also used as hashtag on the Facebook page of a TV program of the public-run RTHK station in Hong Kong but being removed subsequently.

Though not knowing their voting intentions in the anonymous ballot, the appearance of the three bishop-delegates have already helped to make history as this was the greatest constitutional changesin 36 years.

One of them is Bishop Joseph Huang Bingzhang of Shantou, who was publicly excommunicated by the Holy See in 2011. He is the government-appointed bishop whom the Holy See has asked twice Bishop Zhuang Jianjian, the ordinary of the diocese, to step down to give way for him last October and December.

The second is Bishop Guo Jincai of Chengde, who was illicitly ordained without papal mandate in 2010. Vatican sources at that time cited that there was no Chengde diocese in the Catholic hierarchy and thus could not recognize him when denouncing his episcopal ordination. Guo, secretary general of the government-controlled bishops’ conference, is also awaiting the Holy See to recognize him along with the Chengde diocese.

The third one is Bishop Fang Jianping, who was also formerly an illicit bishop ordained in 2000 but was pardoned by the Holy See subsequently. However, many Chinese Catholics criticized the pardoning came too soon as Fang did not show any remorse. He participated in three illicit episcopal ordinations either as the consecrator or a coordainer after he was pardoned.

Speaking to reporters on the sideline of the NPC two days ago whether Chinese Catholics need to support Xi Jinping, Bishop Fang said, “of course,” noting that “as a citizen of a country, citizenship should come before a religion and belief.” When he was asked whether God or the Communist Party is more important, Bishop Fang, a vice chairman of the bishops’ conference, said on March 9, “what’s God’s return to God and the country’s return to the country.”

The China-Vatican accord has been a focus of concern for many Hong Kong and Taiwan media during the current two sessions–the annual meetings of the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Even Wang Yi, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was asked about the imminent accord that reportedly to be signed later this month. On hearing the question, Wang replied, “China and the Vatican is going through constructive dialogue”.

On March 4, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, also responded to the Commercial Radio of Hong Kong that “China has always been sincere about improving China-Vatican relations and has made great efforts to do so.”

Wang Zuoan did not disclose details of the accord on bishops’ appointment but pointed out that they have the same expectation on bishops as with religious personnel of other religions, expecting they will unify patriotism and the love to their religion, not only for the healthy development of religion but also makes positive contribution to social harmony.

The accord has caused anxiety, disappointment and anger among some Catholics in both the open and underground Church communities as they felt the Holy See has made too many concessions. They were also displeased that the Vatican keeps mute on the reoccurrence of Cross removals lately.

The latest Cross removal was a Catholic Church of Shangqiu diocese, central Henan province, on March 9 without prior notice. The workers took more than five hours to remove four Crosses in the Church compound. The Catholic Church of Yining in northwestern Xinjiang also has its cross removed on March 2.

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