Chinese bishop denies government has plans to demolish cathedral

Cathedral of St. Francis, Xi'an, China. Credit: canghai76/Shutterstock

A Catholic bishop in China has denied that the government plans to tear down his cathedral, after local Catholics expressed concern at Communist authorities taking over land belonging to the diocese.

Bishop Anthony Dang Minyan of the Diocese of Xi’an, which is located in the province of Shaanxi, reassured local Catholics this week that there are no plans to demolish St. Francis Cathedral, and that the building is in fact a “provincial heritage.”

The cathedral dates back to the early 18th century, when it was constructed by Italian missionaries. 

Reports of plans to destroy the historic church circulated on Chinese social media after it emerged that local government officials intend to seize Church lands on either side of the cathedral. Houses rented on the land, purchased by the previous bishop, Anthony Li Du'an, are key source of income for the local Church. The houses are set to be demolished to create a public park.

UCA News reported August 4 that Bishop Dang issued the clarification to stop Catholics protesting against a non-existent plan to demolish the cathedral.

"We are in contact with the government. They want to beautify the streets to upgrade the city's image. We are negotiating with the government to see how we can cooperate with the move," the bishop told UCA.

In response to the rumors, some Catholics had gathered to protest in front of the cathedral with signs begging the government not tear the building down. 

Bishop Dang has led the Diocese of Xi'an since 2006. He previously served as auxiliary bishop in the diocese, having been consecrated a bishop in 2005 with both Communist and Vatican approval.

Throughout China, churches have been instructed to remove crosses and other religious symbols from both the inside and outside of the buildings. Other churches have been seized by the government and transformed into secular community centers. 

The expected seizure of Church lands in Xi’an come as the Holy See continues talks with the Chinese government to renew the controversial 2018 provisional agreement on the appointment of bishops in China. More than 50 mainland dioceses are currently without a leader.

Last week, a congressional hearing in Washington highlighted the unknown fate of another Catholic bishop in China: Bishop James Su Zhimin of the Diocese of Baoding, in China’s Hebei province, who was arrested by Chinese authorities in 1997. He was last seen by family at a hospital in 2003 while he was in government custody.

According to Bishop Su’s nephew, Chinese officials have reportedly asked the Vatican to appoint a new bishop of Baoding, fueling fears that Su may have died in government custody. 

The government’s preferred candidate is the diocesan coadjutor Bishop Francis An Shuxi, a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-sanctioned church. - CNA