BEIJING (AFP) — China's government-established Catholic church will install a new Vatican-approved bishop of Beijing possibly as early as this week, a top Chinese church official told AFP on Monday.
"Father Joseph Li Shan has been elected bishop of Beijing. I have heard there will be an ordination ceremony on September 21," said Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The association represents the official state-approved Catholic church, set up by China decades ago following a rift between Beijing and the Vatican.
Previous reports have said that while Li was named to the post without formal Vatican consent, the Holy See approved of the choice.
In July, the Catholic World News quoted Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarciscio Bertone as calling Li "a very good and qualified individual."
Li will replace Fu Tieshan, who died in April, as head of the country's highest-profile diocese.
While the Vatican says that it alone has the right to appoint bishops around the world, China's atheist rulers have long insisted they and their official church are the sole authorities in the communist nation to rule on such matters.
However, the two sides have at various times in their rocky relationship held informal discussions to quietly agree on the appointments of bishops.
The patriotic association came into being in 1957, six years after China's government severed ties with the Vatican in anger over papal recognition of Beijing's political rival Taiwan.
The association has an estimated five million members, while an underground church in China loyal to the Vatican is said to have about 10 million.
Reconciliation hopes were raised in June by a letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics loyal to the Holy See, which said Beijing must respect religious freedom but notably omitted past Vatican attacks on Chinese communism.
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