“Enigmatic” Bishop of Shanghai Dies

The controversial bishop of Shanghai’s state-run Catholic Church, Aloysius Jin Luxian, died on Saturday at age 96. Didi Kirsten Tatlow of The New York Times reports that hundreds of people attended his funeral on Monday, though there were notable absences:

Missing among the mourners, according to witnesses, were bishops from China’s state-run Catholic Church, which rejects the Vatican’s claim to lead all Catholics. The funeral of one of China’s most prominent prelates was a local Shanghai affair.

The political slight probably would not have surprised Bishop Jin, a Shanghai native who spent nearly three decades in jail, labor camps or other forms of detention for his faith. Arrested in 1955 as the atheist Chinese state swept away Christianity, and not fully freed until 1982, he walked a tightrope for the rest of his life, trying to balance the interests of Beijing and Rome. China and the Vatican have long feuded, but both recognized the prominent bishop, making him a deeply political figure.

Tatlow writes that “politics dogged Bishop Jin to the end,” as he walked a tightrope between the Chinese state and the Vatican, and she speculates that “a highly politicized dispute” over his successor may explain the no-show of bishops at his funeral. The Associated Press has more on the unsettled state of the Shanghai church:

Jin’s first anointed successor as acting bishop, Joseph Xing Wenzhi, resigned last year for reasons still unclear, and his replacement, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, was placed under house arrest at Shanghai’s Sheshan Seminary after enraging party officials by renouncing his membership in the party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.

Jin served on the official advisory body to China’s rubber-stamp parliament as well as the Patriotic Assn., making him a frequent target of critics who argued he was too cooperative with the authorities.

He acknowledged those complaints in a 2005 interview with the Associated Press, saying he hoped the appointment of his successor would heal the rift between the official church and the semi-clandestine one that defies party control. The two disagree most sharply over the appointment of bishops, and it remains unclear whether the Vatican and Beijing will be able to forge a consensus on a new Shanghai bishop.

Writing in the Atlantic, Bloomberg correspondent Adam Minter ponders the legacy of the man he calls “arguably the most important, complicated, and controversial Chinese religious figure of the last half-century:”

Whether or not one agreed with his methods and accommodations, there’s no denying his tangible, even quantifiable, accomplishments on behalf of the nation’s Catholics. Of these, the one that most impressed the Vatican over the years (according to two individuals in close contact with the Holy See on China issues) are the 407 priests who’ve been trained at Shanghai’s government-authorized and run Sheshan Seminary since it re-opened in 1982. Of these priests, at least 12 are Vatican-recognized bishops (and seven others who haven’t been recognized, or have unresolved statuses). The irony, as Jin pointed out to me several times, is that the Vatican had ordered him not to run the seminary, but rather wait until the Communists fell. “What if I had walked away from the seminary?” He asked me in 2007. “I would have been pure, but then who would train the priests? The government? Or should we do as the Chinese Catholics in exile demand and wait for the Communists to fall?”

Jin’s legacy in Shanghai is uncertain. His chosen successor as bishop, Xing Wenzhi, reportedly resigned in December 2011 and has not spoken publicly of his reasons. The next successor, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, publicly renounced the Catholic Patriotic Association, a government-run Catholic oversight organization, at his ordination, and has been confined to the seminary ever since. Nonetheless, Jin’s legacy in China, as represented by the hundreds of priests and the 12 bishops he educated, the liturgy he spurred, and the Bibles he published, runs far deeper and longer than what he may or may not have left behind in his beloved home city. It is, rather, a legacy of hard-earned, and hard-to-uproot religious freedom under a Communist Party that’s never expressed an interest in fostering any.

See also Minter’s 2007 profile of Jin in The Atlantic, as well as a recap of the historical tensions between Beijing and the Vatican by Caixin Online’s Sheila Melvin. In addition, read more about religionCatholicism, and religious freedom in China via CDT.


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