China will install its own bishop without papal blessing at the Mindong Diocese in Eastern Fujian province, Sunday, worsening already strained tensions after Beijing installed two bishops with Vatican approval.
Zhan Silu, or Vincent Zhan, said that he wrote to "the Vatican…for recognition" but did not receive an answer, according to a Friday Reuters report.
"For me, Vatican approval is important, but I also have to consider local needs," Zhan said.
Zhan’s appointment threatens to further undermine efforts to normalize Vatican-China relations, which was severed in 1951 shortly after the Communist Party’s takeover of China in 1949.
The 45-year-old bishop was appointed to his position in 2000, amongst five others whom were consecrated despite Vatican opposition. Zhan, based in Fujian, was not formally appointed as head of the diocese or led a full Mass prior to Friday’s announcement for his upcoming installment.
In the past weeks, the appointment of two bishops respectively in the Yunnan province and the Anhui province cooled China-Vatican relations after observers hope that renewed dialogue would normalize diplomacy between the two.
Zhan will replace the former bishop of Mindong, who died last year at age 88. Xinhau News, a government-affiliated agency, reported on Friday that Zhan has "won wide support from priests and believers," though some Chinese Catholics have privately expressed concern for the widening rift between the two sides.
The Fujian-based bishop holds a senior position within the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is under the Communist Party.
China officially has 10 million Catholics and does not acknowledge "underground" churches that have remained loyal to the Pope. The state-monitored churches only see the Pope as a spiritual figurehead, but have no formal ties to the Vatican.
A Fujian priest, who knew Zhan well, said that even priests in state-sanctioned churches were planning to not attend the Sunday ceremony, but came under pressure from government officials to come.
"Some priests are very worked up about this," he said, as quoted by Reuters. "Because he has not been recognized by the Vatican, priests have not cooperated with him and so he hasn’t consulted them."
"I don't think the Vatican has approved of Zhan because of his background and because the underground parishioners there are so opposed," he added.