A Chinese bishop has resigned just weeks before the Vatican and Beijing are expected to renew a controversial agreement on appointments, saying he could not keep pace with changing times.
Vincenzo Guo Xijin announced his resignation as auxiliary bishop at an evening mass in the eastern province of Fujian on Sunday, saying he did not want to become an "obstacle to progress" hindering the reconciliation of the underground and official Catholic churches.
Before Beijing and the Vatican reached an agreement on the appointment of bishops in China in September 2018, Guo was the bishop of the Mindong diocese.
Guo is recognised by the Vatican but not by China's official Catholic church and as such, Guo was one of the leaders of the unofficial church.
But on instructions from the Holy See, Guo stepped aside to become an auxiliary bishop to allow Vincent Zhan Silu, a prelate recognised by Beijing, to become bishop.
Zhan had been excommunicated by the Holy See because he was consecrated without papal approval but the Pope reconciled with him when the agreement was signed in 2018.
Church observers have said that in sealing the agreement, the Vatican hoped it would help pave the way for the reconciliation between the government-sanctioned church and the unofficial underground one.
Addressing the congregation on Sunday, Guo said his resignation came at an "extraordinary historical moment" and he lacked the talents to keep pace with the changing times.
"Tonight will be the last public mass that I preside over: from tomorrow I will only do private masses," Guo said, according to the transcripts of an address circulated on the internet.
"My faithful, you must remember that your faith is in God and not in humans. Humans are prone to changes, but God is not.
"I am no longer able to keep up with (the changes of) this era. Nonetheless, I do not want to become an obstacle to progress. This is why I have decided to resign. I submitted my resignation to the Holy See last month."
It is understood that his resignation has yet to be formally accepted by Pope Francis.
Guo said he would no longer attend public events and leave all administrative matters relating to the diocese to Zhan.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, head of AsiaNews, a Rome-based Catholic news agency, said Guo's resignation underscored "the failure of reconciliation of China's official and underground Catholic church in Mindong".
"The situation in Mindong is more complicated than what the Vatican has anticipated ... It also shows he (Guo) is sceptical about whether renewal of the agreement could help the reconciliation of the Chinese official and underground communities," Cervellera said.
William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International, said that through his resignation, Guo expressed his inability to "change the overall trajectory" of the church being led by politics in China.
"He indicates that he no longer feels comfortable cooperating in such a system, which implicitly does not seem to give God and the integrity of the faith top priority," Nee said.
In 2018, Beijing signed a historic accord with the Vatican over the appointment of bishops on a provisional term but the details of the agreement were never made public. The deal is expected to be renewed before it expires later this month.
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