China: Consecration of two “patriotic” bishops without Vatican approval

Source: FSSPX News


On Sunday April 30, the Chinese daily Ta Kung Pao reported the words of the spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “The Vatican should not interfere in China’s political affairs, including religious affairs,” he stated, specifying that the Vatican would have to break off relations with Taiwan if it was contemplating a normalization of relations with Beijing.

 On the same day, Fr. Joseph Ma Yinglin, a member of the official Catholic Church of China was consecrated bishop of Kunming, in the Yunnan province, without the approval of Benedict XVI. The Holy See opposed it because of what was judged his lack of pastoral experience and his proximity to Communist powers through the Patriotic Catholic Association of China. The forty year old priest lives in Beijing, where he carries out the duties of Secretary General of the Council of Chinese Bishops, the “Official” Bishops’ Conference. Fr. Ma is also one of the vice-presidents of the Patriotic Association , a deputy of the Catholic clergy to the consultative political Conference of the Chinese People and rector of the “official” major seminary of Shijiazhuang, in the Hebei province. In 2005 he was also elected president of the Patriotic Catholic Association of China of the Yunnan province.

On May 3, Fr. Joseph Liu Xinhong was consecrated “official” bishop of Wuhu in Eastern China, again without papal approval. Aged 41, Fr. Liu is a member of the “official” Catholic Church of this diocese.

On the same day, the agency I.MEDIA revealed that according to diplomatic sources, the decision to consecrate two Chinese bishops had been taken by “the highest authorities of China.” It was specified that the consecration of Fr. Ma Yinglin was “inevitable”, in order to ensure the succession of one of the aged or sick bishops of the official Church, one of whom is Mgr. Michael Fu Tieshan, president of the Patriotic Association.

 Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun, the bishop of Hong Kong, said to the BBC: “The Vatican should suspend negotiations, since Beijing has betrayed the confidence placed in it. “To initiate negotiations while imposing a fait accompli on the Holy See is truly underhand,” he continued. “In naming its bishops hastily and illegally, the Patriotic Catholic Association has sought to impose its own choice.” “This is very serious,” added the cardinal, “and it ought to provoke a very strong reaction” on the part of the Vatican.

 Moreover, Mgr. Zen condemned the actions of those who exerted pressure on the “official” bishops of China in order to force them to take part in “patriotic” episcopal consecrations. On March 24, the Cardinal specified on the Italian TV Channel Rai Uno, that a new generation of bishops in China was no longer accepting consecration without the recognition of the Holy See, despite pressure exerted by the government.

 In actual fact, all priests and bishops of the “official” Church have to swear fidelity to the State. “Control is so restrictive, that the situation is incomprehensible outside of China,” said the cardinal.

 According to Churches of Asia, the two priests had been informed beforehand of Rome’s opposition to their accession to the episcopate. The revue says that the many “underground” faithful of Anhui province, as well as the faithful of the official Church will not acknowledge the bishop of Wuhu, refused by Rome. A leader of the “underground” community said that the bishop would be isolated in his diocese.


 Holy See “surprised” by these two illegal consecrations

 The agency I.MEDIA reported these comments from the Vatican: “We do not know” what the Chinese authorities want, “we are trying to understand.” “Even the local Catholics do not give explanations,” and the reason for these unauthorized ordinations remains “a mystery.” “These are grave actions against the Church.” A “similar” “hostile and violent act” against the Holy See dates back to January 6, 2000 with the consecration of five bishops in Beijing.

It is to be hoped that this attitude “does not continue” in order to avoid “open war” by the Chinese State “against the Church, as there was in 1958.” These actions are “obstacles” to the normalization of diplomatic relations broken off in 1951 between the Holy See and China.

 The Vatican said that these were two cases of heavy pressure, of shows of force, of threats.” “All of this is due to government pressure, and not pressure from the patriotic Church.” Thus the consecrations were imposed on Chinese Catholics and they have been “forced to take part in them.” – According to AsiaNews, the Holy See made a final attempt to prevent the consecration of Liu Xinhong on May 2, 2006.

On May 4, the Vatican expressed itself in a declaration signed by Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office: “(…) The Holy Father learned of this news with great displeasure, given that an action so important for the life of the Church as an episcopal ordination has been carried out in both cases, without respect for the requirements for communion with the pope. It is a serious injury against the unity of the Church, for which, it is known, severe canonical sanctions are anticipated (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1382).

 “According to information we have received, bishops and priests have been subject to heavy pressure and threats on the part of organizations outside of the Church, with the aim of forcing them to participate in these consecrations which, lacking a pontifical mandate, are not legitimate and what is more, against their consciences. Some prelates refused to bow to these pressures, while others could only submit with great anguish. This kind of episode causes splits not only in the Catholic community, but also in their innermost consciences. (Ed.: article 1324 of the code of Canon law stipulates that “one who acts under duress out of great feat” is not subject to excommunication latae sententiae.)

 “Here we are faced with a grave violation of religious liberty, despite the attempt to present the two consecrations as an act necessary to provide pastors in vacant dioceses.”

 Dr. Navarro-Valls continued: “The Holy See is now considering its specific duty of giving a voice to the sufferings of the Catholic Church, in particular that of the Catholic community in China, and especially the bishops and priests, who see themselves obliged – against their conscience – to carry out and participate in episcopal ordinations, while neither the candidates or the consecrating bishops wish to do so without a papal mandate.

 “If the report, according to which other ordinations may take place according to the same conditions, corresponds with the truth, the Holy See reiterates the necessity of respect for the freedom of the Church and the autonomy of her institutions regarding all external interference, and therefore strongly hopes that such unacceptable acts of intolerable coercion will not be repeated.

“The Holy See has repeated on many occasions its availability for an honest and constructive dialogue with the relevant Chinese authorities in order to find solutions which satisfy the legitimate demands of both parties. Initiatives such as the above-mentioned not only discourage this dialogue, but on the contrary, pose new obstacles.”

 According to the agency AsiaNews, Anthony Liu Bainian, one of the vice-presidents of the Patriotic Catholic Association of China (PCAC) has planned around twenty similar ordinations in order to provide for the vacant dioceses – of which there are about forty.

 On May 6, the Religious Affairs Office of the Chinese government condemned the Holy See’s statement. It said that their remarks were without foundation and devoid “of meaning.” Declaring that they had taken up “an honest and sincere dialogue with the Vatican,” he stated that the consecration of the new bishops responded to “an urgent necessity” for the Church in China, with 40 dioceses vacant.” Beijing pointed out that “where there is no bishop, there is no Church.” Therefore, the Chinese government confirmed its wish to make a “contribution to evangelization,” recalling that “for more than half a century” in China the choice and consecration of bishops had been autonomous.

 On Sunday May 7, 37 year old Fr. Paul Pei Junmin was consecrated coadjutor bishop with Vatican approval at the cathedral of the Sacred Heart of Shenyang, in Liaoning province in north eastern China. The young bishop was one of the first Chinese priests to be sent abroad to study. – Ordained in 1992, Fr. Pei was sent by his bishop to the United States to study Sacred Scripture.

 Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the bishop of Hong Kong, published a declaration written in Chinese on May 8, and reproduced in English by the agency AsiaNews. In it Mgr. Zen confirmed that “all candidates consecrated bishop without the approval of the Holy See are in a difficult situation: as a rule, priests refuse to concelebrate with them and the faithful keep them at a distance.” Further on, the cardinal stated that there is only one Catholic Church and all her members wish to be guided by the pope. In order to demonstrate the inaccuracy of the statements from Beijing, the bishop of Hong Kong pointed out that in China, during the last twenty years, an increasing number of bishops, priests and faithful have fought for papal approval of bishops. Mgr. Zen described the recent decision to consecrate two bishops without the authorization of the Holy See: an “obscurantist” decision which reversed the course of Chinese history and harmed the links between China and the Vatican.