Vatican Calls China's Illicitly Ordained to Examine Hearts

Notes Fear Is Mitigating Factor in Excommunication Latae Sententiae

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By Jesús Colina

ROME, JUNE 14, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The Holy See is clarifying the status of bishops ordained without papal mandate and those who consecrate them, as more such illicit ordinations in China are feared to be on the horizon.

In the Saturday edition of L'Osservatore Romano, a clarification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts considered the applicable canons and mitigating circumstances.

Canon 1382: "A bishop who consecrates some one 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."

Latae sententiae means automatically, a penalty that comes simply by violating the law itself. Abortion also carries the penalty of excommunication latae sententiae, for example.

However, canon 1324 of the Code of Canon Law provides 10 cases in which "the perpetrator of a violation is not exempt from a penalty, but the penalty established by law or precept must be tempered or a penance employed in its place."

Among these circumstances, No. 5 applies to those "coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave, or due to necessity or grave inconvenience if the delict is intrinsically evil or tends to the harm of souls."

The most recent situation that nearly called these canons into play was last Thursday, when a Chinese priest was set to be ordained without papal mandate. In the end, the ordination was postponed, though China's association that attempts to rule over religion in the country gave no reason for the postponement.

China did ordain a bishop without papal mandate last November.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, explained to ZENIT that the dicastery's clarification was published not only for the China cases.

Similar situations have arisen in the recent past, such as the bishops ordained by Emmanuel Milingo, the former archbishop of Lusaka, Zambia, now released from the clerical state. The media reported that in November 2006, he ordained four American priests as bishops.

In Spain as well there is the case of bishops ordained in the schismatic Order of the Carmelites of the Holy Face, headquartered in Seville, by Vietnamese Archbishop Pierre Martin Ngô-dinh-Thuc.

The Vatican note confirms that excommunications in these cases are incurred both by the consecrating bishop and the priest who is consecrated.

"Moreover, given that the episcopal consecration is a rite in which several ministers usually take part, those who assume the task of co-consecrating, namely, of imposing their hands and reciting the prayer of consecration of the ordination, become co-authors of the offense and therefore are also subjected to the penal sanction," it adds.

However, recalling the mitigating factors listed in Canon 1324, the pontifical council statement suggests that in an atmosphere of fear, such as that of China, "the situation of each of the individuals that intervene in the rite must be verified: the consecrating ministers and the consecrated clerics."

"Each one of them knows in his heart the level of personal involvement and right conscience, which will indicate to each if he has incurred a punishment latae sententiae."

The note concludes by reminding that absolution from excommunication latae sententiae is reserved to the Holy See, which always seeks to move whoever has committed such a crime to repentance.