Beijing Catholics Celebrates 50 Years, Amidst Candidate Selection Controversy

( [email protected] ) Jul 26, 2007 01:46 PM EDT

The official Catholic Church in China went ahead with celebrating 50 years, Wednesday, despite controversy surrrounding its recent selection of a candidate Bishop for Beijing without papal-authority.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) invited 5,000 people to celebrate the occasion, though some guests with stronger ties to the Holy See reportedly chose not to go, reported Catholic-affiliated Asia News.

The celebration comes during a time of weakened Sino-Vatican relations, after Chinese catholics leaders and laymen from government-approved churches apparently selected Rev. Li Shan to hold the office of Bishop in Beijing without the consent of Bope Benedict XVI.

Li, awaiting further approval by 69 other Chinese Catholic leaders, stands in line to replace Beijing Bishop Fu Tieshan, who died in April. Prior to his death, Fu was the hardline chairman of the Patriotic Assocation.

The Vatican claims only it has the authority to name Bishops, while Beijing views papal appointments as interferring with China’s internal affairs. The question of appointing Bishops has been the main hinderance to normalizing Sino-Vatican relations, which was severed after the Chinese Communist Party forced Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Pope in 1951.

Underground Catholics still loyal to the Vatican say the outcome of the recent selection was decided by the government beforehand. Last Tuesday, Asia News cited unidentified church sources as saying “government officials had earlier lobbied all priests to ensure that Father Li would be elected.”

The chairman of The Patriotic Association, Liu Bainan, dismissed concerns that his organization and other government-bodies orchestrated the selection – claiming in an AP report that “no outsiders were involved.”

On Tuesday, Pope Benedict played down the possibility of an imminent breakthrough in relations with Communist China, after Liu made overtures in an Italian newspaper for a landmark visit from the Holy. "I can't talk about that now. It's a bit complicated," the German-born pontiff had said.

China’s Roman Catholics are only allowed to worship in government-approved churches run by its own Patriotic Association. Though it sees the Pope as a spiritual guide, the state churches assign Bishops regularly without papal-approval.

Catholics still loyal to the Vatican opt to worship in unregistered underground churches. Government reaction to these churches range from physical harrassment to imprisonment of the its followers.