Recent reports that the Vatican will renew an agreement with Beijing over the running of the Catholic Church in China were swiftly followed by the resignation of Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin of Mindong diocese in southeastern Fujian province.
Bishop Guo announced his resignation on Oct. 4, a week after the Vatican and China announced plans to renew their agreement on bishops' appointments, the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAnews) website reported.
Guo, who has repeatedly been targeted by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for eviction and imprisonment, announced his decision to retire to a life of prayer at his last public mass on Oct. 4.
Describing the deal between CCP general secretary Xi Jinping and Pope Francis as "a new era," Guo said he was no longer able to "keep up."
Guo's announcement came two years after he accepted demotion to the rank of auxiliary bishop as part of the deal between the Vatican and Beijing, enabling Beijing's preferred candidate Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu to take his place, UCAnews said.
"My head is now a void unable to change with a changing society; [I am] a shepherd born in a poor village who has no talent, no virtue, no wisdom, no skills, no knowledge; in the face of this age that changes so rapidly, I feel almost incapable," he told the congregation.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, who is nearly 90, recently traveled to Rome in a bid to discuss who will be the next Bishop of Hong Kong.
Zen was denied an audience with the Pope, and returned home empty-handed, he told the National Catholic Register.
"I do not believe I will return again," he told the paper. "My legs do not work so well now for these long trips."
"I've done more than I can, and there is nothing more to do other than prayer," he said, adding that he would refuse to be interred alongside CCP-appointed clergy in a Hong Kong cathedral.
'A yes-man for the Chinese government'
Zen later told RFA's Cantonese Service that he believes the Vatican is considering appointing Fr. Peter Choy, as a safe candidate acceptable to Beijing.
"[Peter Choy's] views, the things he says, give [the ruling Chinese Communist Party] no cause for concern," he said. "We're not saying that it should definitely be somebody who is oppositional towards Beijing ... actually [alternative candidate] Joseph Ha is pretty moderate, as everyone who knows him can tell you, he is a soft-spoken, polite person."
"But they don't want someone like that, either, so there's a problem. They want someone who will be totally obedient to them," Zen said.
"We in the church are bound to other standards; we can never be totally obedient. We have to debate things; there are certain standards to adhere to; sometimes we must protest," he said.
Zen said he fears that appointing a bishop for Hong Kong who is totally obedient to the CCP would effectively collapse any distinction between the Catholic church in mainland China and that in Hong Kong.
He said such a collapse has already been heralded by the imposition by Beijing of the draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong with effect from July 1.
"Somebody who is totally obedient would be a real problem," he said. "Beijing's aim is clear: they want to destroy our church. They have already succeeded in doing that in China, because the Vatican took leave of the church's principles [in making the agreement with Beijing]."
"They completely caved in, with nothing to show for it in return," Zen said. "Everyone in the Chinese Catholic church is now a yes-man for the Chinese government and the underground church has been eliminated."
"We don't want the same thing to happen here in Hong Kong; for Beijing to have to approve our bishops. If that happened, there would be no difference between the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong systems," he said.
But Ying Fuk Tsang, professor of divinity at Chung Chi College of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said it may already be too late.
He said the "China factor" has already become an indispensable factor in the Vatican's consideration of bishops in Hong Kong, and that the delay in appointing a new bishop suggested that the Vatican is waiting for "the right time."
Reported by Lu Xi for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.