Shanghai bishop funeral held amid Vatican-China row over successor

BEIJING (AP) - Funeral services were held on Thursday for Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, while the whereabouts of his anointed successor remained unclear amid a struggle for control between the Vatican and the ruling Communist Party.

Bishop Jin died on Saturday at age 96, leaving deep uncertainty about the future leadership of one of China's largest and wealthiest dioceses. His successor, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, was placed under house arrest last year immediately after he renounced his role in the Communist Party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association. Bishop Ma had been confined to Shanghai's main seminary at Sheshan, but reportedly was moved recently to an undisclosed location.

The officially atheist Communist Party insists on tightly controlling all organised religions. It requires that Catholics worship in churches that belong to the Patriotic Association and demands the right to appoint bishops in defiance of the Vatican. Despite that, Bishop Ma had been approved by both the Vatican and Beijing, making his public renunciation of the Patriotic Association at his July 7 ordination Mass a grave affront to the party.

Security at the Longhua Funeral Home was tight for Bishop Jin's funeral, with dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police officers on hand. Six officers kept a close eye on those lining up for flowers to place on Bishop Jin's bier, turning away journalists and others on an unofficial blacklist. Despite that, more than 1,000 people filled a large hall dominated by a big portrait of Bishop Jin, about the same number who attended a funeral mass at the city's St Ignatius Cathedral earlier in the week.

Mourners extolled Bishop Jin's life, which took him from religious studies in Europe to Mao Zedong's labour camps, but also complained bitterly of party interference in religious affairs. One woman noted that Bishop Jin's official biography and death notice made no mention of his nearly three decades of confinement under Mao, who ordered Chinese Catholics to cut their ties with the Vatican and jailed hundreds of priests and nuns as counter-revolutionaries.

"It's unfair to him that there was no mention at the funeral of the difficult times in his life. And where is our bishop? I feel very saddened and pained for Ma Daqin," said the woman, who declined to give her name because of fear of harassment by the authorities. After Bishop Ma renounced the Patriotic Association, it stripped him of his title as "coadjutor", or acting, bishop but the Vatican refused to recognise the move and has continued to view Bishop Ma as Shanghai's auxiliary bishop.

Born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in June 1916, Bishop Jin was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1938 and spent several years studying in France, Germany, and other European nations. Returning to his native Shanghai in 1951, he was imprisoned or otherwise confined for nearly two decades and later put to work as a translator based on his knowledge of several European languages.

Following Mao's death in 1976, he was formally released and named Shanghai bishop in 1988 by the Patriotic Association. Although the Vatican recognised another priest as Shanghai bishop, Bishop Jin worked tirelessly to recover church property and rebuild its congregations, publishing houses, and overseas ties.

Bishop Jin had been criticised by some for cooperating with Mao's successors in reviving the church in Shanghai, but later reconciled with the Vatican and worked to heal divisions between Catholics who worship in the state church and those who do so in underground congregations.

"He was so important to the Shanghai diocese," said Ms Mei Jingfen, 63, who regularly attended Bishop Jin's masses at St Ignatius.

"It was peaceful and harmonious under his leadership and we respected him so much," she said.