Pope Displeased by Illicit Ordinations in China

A Grave Violation of Religious Liberty, Says Spokesman

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 4, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI received with "profound displeasure" the news of illicit ordinations of bishops in China.



The events led the Holy See to "give voice" to the suffering of the entire Catholic community of the country, said a statement issued today by Vatican spokesman Joaquín Navarro Valls.

"An act so relevant for the life of the Church, such as an episcopal ordination, has been carried out" -- twice in the span of three days -- "without respecting the requirements of communion with the Pope," stated Navarro Valls.

The director of the Vatican press office began his statement saying: "I can inform you of the position of the Holy See regarding the episcopal ordination of the priests Joseph Ma Yinglin and Joseph Liu Xinhong, which took place, respectively, last Sunday, April 30, in Kunming […] and Wednesday, May 3, in Wuhu."

"It is a grave wound to the unity of the Church, for which several canonical sanctions, as it is known, are foreseen," lamented the Vatican spokesman.

Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law establishes that "A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a 'latae sententiae' excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See."

Canon 1314 stipulates that a "latae sententiae" excommunication "is incurred ipso facto when the delict is committed."

Pressured

The Vatican spokesman said that "bishops and priests have been subjected to -- on the part of entities external to the Church -- strong pressures and threats, so that they would take part in the episcopal ordinations which, being without pontifical mandate, are illegitimate and, besides, contrary to their conscience."

"Various prelates have given a refusal to similar pressures, while others were not able to do anything but submit with great interior suffering," Navarro Valls stated.

The spokesman continued: "We are facing … a grave violation of religious liberty, notwithstanding that it sought to present the two episcopal ordinations as a proper act to provide the pastors for vacant dioceses."

The Holy See considers it its "duty to give voice to the suffering of the entire Catholic Church, in particular to that of the Catholic community in China and especially to that of those bishops and priests who were seen obligated, against conscience, to take part or to participate in the episcopal ordination, which, neither the candidates nor the consecrating bishops want to carry out without having received the pontifical mandate."

Patriotic Association

According to AsiaNews, an agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the Chinese "Patriotic Association" (PA) has been behind the illicit episcopal ordinations.

In China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the PA.

This explains the difference affirmed between the "official" Church and the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly. The latter constitute the non-official, or underground, Church.

In the context of the announcement of last Sunday's illicit ordination, AsiaNews' director, Father Bernardo Cervellera, explained that "on the topic of diplomatic relations, both the [Chinese] government as well as the Vatican wish to act without the PA."

"Over the past two years the Beijing government and the Vatican had come to a de facto agreement which left to Rome the indication of a candidate to the episcopate," the priest said.

"The auxiliary bishops of Shanghai, Xian [and] Wanxian, and the ordinary of Suzhoy were ordained in this way," he recalled.

The priest's analysis implied that such an agreement "left the PA out," which for "decades" has controlled ordinations, "diminishing its power over the official Church," something with which the PA is not in agreement.

Troubled path

Father Cervellera explained that "on the part of the Vatican, of the official and underground Church," the idea is increasingly growing of "accepting the registration of communities and bishops in the government's Religious Affairs Office, but without adhering to the PA, which is working for a national Church independent from Rome."

Today, Navarro Valls commented that "The Holy See follows with attention the troubled path of the Catholic Church in China and, even aware of some particularities of such a path, believed and hoped that similar, deplorable episodes by now would belong to the past."

He continued: "The Holy See would like to underline the need for respect for the liberty of the Church and for the autonomy of its institutions from whatever external interference."

In his statement, Navarro Valls pointed out the Holy See's "willingness for honest and constructive dialogue with the competent Chinese authorities for the purpose of finding a solution that would satisfy the needs of both parties."

However, he added, initiatives such as these illegitimate episcopal ordinations not only "do not favor such dialogue" but "create new obstacles against it."