Underground Catholic bishop Joseph Fan dies at age of 97

Shanghai bishop had suffered decades of imprisonment and house arrest

Two people walk into the grounds of the St Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai. The underground bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Fan, died aged 97 late on Sunday following decades of imprisonment and house arrest. Photograph: Getty

Two people walk into the grounds of the St Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai. The underground bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Fan, died aged 97 late on Sunday following decades of imprisonment and house arrest. Photograph: Getty

Tue, Mar 18, 2014, 01:00

The underground bishop of Shanghai, Joseph Fan, died aged 97 late on Sunday following decades of imprisonment and house arrest.

Authorities are clamping down on overly public displays of mourning, the Cardinal Kung Foundation said.

Bishop Fan suffered from a high fever several days before he died. He died at his home still under house arrest, a sentence that entailed strict surveillance by the government for most of the last two decades,” the US-based Catholic organisation said.

Born in 1918, Bishop Fan was baptised a Catholic in 1932, joined the Society of Jesus in 1938, was ordained a priest in 1951, and later arrested in 1955 by the communist government. From 1955 he spent more than 30 years in prison and in labour camps.

Fan was named Shanghai bishop by John Paul II in 2000, but was refused recognition by the Communist Party organisation overseeing the church in China.


Tensions
To worship openly in China, Catholics are required to join the official China Patriotic Catholic Association, which has five million members. Tensions repeatedly surface with Rome because the state-directed organisation insists on naming bishops without Vatican approval.

Many Catholics worship in “underground” churches, and there are reckoned to be about 10 million Catholics in China altogether.

An underground priest immediately said mass for Bishop Fan after he died. Shortly afterwards Shanghai government officials arrived and ordered the immediate transfer of the body of Bishop Fan to a funeral home.

As more than 2,000 underground Catholics were expected to attend the funeral mass of Bishop Fan, the underground church made a request to the government that the funeral Mass be held at St Ignatius Cathedral, which has capacity for a crowd of this size.

“This request was denied,” the organisation said. “Instead, the government only allowed the funeral Mass for Bishop Fan to be held in an open courtyard at the funeral home.”

Bishop Fan’s fellow bishop Aloysius Jin, held his funeral service there in April 2013.


Funeral
While the funeral arrangements for Bishop Fan have not yet been finalised, they will be limited to two days as dictated by the government, the foundation said.

When Bishop Fan was placed under house arrest, another priest, Aloysius Jin Luxian, was named as bishop. When Bishop Jin died, his intended successor was Thaddeus Ma Daqin, but he has not been seen since being taken into custody in 2012.