Shanghai bishop Jin Luxian, who brought church back from Maoist persecution, dies at age 96

Beijing — Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who revived the Catholic church in China’s financial hub after years of Maoist persecution, has died. He was 96.

Jin’s death on Saturday leaves one of China’s largest and wealthiest dioceses in a deeply unsettled state, underscoring continuing tensions generated by the ruling Communist Party’s insistence on tightly controlling all organized religions.

Jin’s first anointed successor as acting bishop, Joseph Xing Wenzhi, resigned last year for reasons still unclear, and his replacement, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, was placed under house arrest at Shanghai’s Sheshan Seminary after enraging party officials by renouncing his membership in the party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.

Born into a Catholic family in Shanghai in June 1916, 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, Jin was imprisoned for nearly two decades under Communist China’s founder, Mao Zedong, who ordered Chinese Catholics to cut their ties with the Vatican and jailed hundreds of priests and nuns as counter-revolutionaries.

Jin was paroled in 1972 and 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 recognized another priest as Shanghai bishop, Jin worked tirelessly to recover church property and rebuild congregations, achieving a remarkable degree of independence from the authorities in Beijing.

China has an estimated 8 million to 12 million Catholics, around half of whom worship in congregations outside the control of the Patriotic Association.

Jin served on the official advisory body to China’s rubber-stamp parliament as well as the Patriotic Association, making him a frequent target of critics who argued he was too cooperative with the authorities.

He acknowledged those complaints in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press, saying he hoped the appointment of his successor would heal the rift between the official church and the semi-clandestine one that defies party control. The two disagree most sharply over the appointment of bishops, and it remains unclear whether the Vatican and Beijing will be able to forge a consensus on a new Shanghai bishop.

“Bishop Jin Luxian loved the country and the church all his life,” the official Catholic association said in a statement on its website. “His death is not only a great loss for the Shanghai diocese, but for the entire Catholic church in China.”

In a statement, U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke said Jin had “worked diligently to promote understanding between Chinese Catholics of all persuasions and provided a beacon of hope for reconciliation between China and the Holy See.”

“We hope that his legacy of devotion to both his faith and his countrymen will long provide a model for others to follow,” Locke said.