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Vatican says illicit ordination of Chinese bishop a ‘painful wound’

Worshippers take pictures in front of the Pingquan Church after a bishop ordination ceremony in Chengde city, northeastern Hebei province, China Saturday AP Photo/Andy Wong

The ordination without papal approval of a bishop in China inflicted a “painful wound” on the Catholic Church, and government pressure on other bishops to participate in the ceremony was a “grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience,” the Vatican said.

Under close surveillance from local government officials, Father Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained bishop of Chengde — the first bishop ordained without papal approval in four years.

Eight bishops in communion with Pope Benedict XVI laid their hands on Father Guo, whose ordination was illicit in the eyes of the church. Some of the ordaining bishops had been detained by government officials in the days before the ordination in an effort to force them to participate, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.
The Vatican, which waited until yesterday to make a statement because it was gathering information, said Pope Benedict “received the news with deep regret.”

Because the new bishop did not have the mandate or blessing of the pope, the ordination “constitutes a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline,” the statement said.
The ordination was a violation of church law and Bishop Guo “finds himself in a most serious canonical condition,” facing “severe sanctions,” including automatic excommunication, it said.

“This ordination not only does not contribute to the good of the Catholics of Chengde, but places them in a very delicate and difficult condition, also from the canonical point of view, and humiliates them, because the Chinese civil authorities wish to impose on them a pastor who is not in full communion either with the Holy Father or with the other bishops throughout the world,” the Vatican statement said.

In addition, the bishops participating in the ordination face canonical penalties unless it can be shown that they were among those forced by government security forces to attend the liturgy.

Retired Bishop John Liu Jinghe of Tangshan refused to attend the ordination, sources told UCA News.

More than 100 Catholics and dozens of government officials attended the ordination Mass at the church in the rural town of Pingquan. The village was surrounded by about 100 uniformed and plainclothes police. Cameras were banned in the church, and mobile phone signals were blocked in the area.

Bishop Guo became the first bishop illegitimately ordained since Pope Benedict issued his letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. The papal letter strongly criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the church’s activities, but on several key issues, including the appointment of bishops, it invited civil authorities to a new and serious dialogue.

In recent years, because of government requirements, the priests, nuns and laypeople of Chinese dioceses have elected their new bishops, and most of those elected have applied to the Holy See for approval. If such approval was given, it often was announced at the episcopal ordination. Ten Chinese bishops already have been ordained with Vatican approval this year.

Two days before the ordination, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said the ordinations, if carried out, would damage “the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See.”

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who attended the pope’s creation of 24 new cardinals at the Vatican, said he was saddened by news of Bishop Guo’s ordination and information that some bishops were forced to participate.
However, he told UCA News, “We should not be so quick to condemn those, our brothers, before listening to their self-justification.”

The cardinal criticized Anthony Liu Bainian, vice president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, who said China proceeded with the ordination because the Vatican had not given a good reason for its lack of approval. Bainian told UCA News, “We have waited for a long time and could not wait any longer.”

“The last word belongs to him,” Cardinal Zen told UCA News. “We thought there was a sincere negotiation going on. No, that was not so. He wants everything his way.”

The Vatican statement also expressed concern about Bainian’s influence in the matter.
“The Holy See notes with regret that the authorities allow the leadership of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, under the influence of Mr. Liu Bainian, to adopt attitudes that gravely damage the Catholic Church and hamper the aforesaid dialogue,” the statement said.

Cardinal Zen also criticized “the kidnapping of persons (bishops), the cutting of all communications, the huge show of police force as if dealing with dangerous criminals. … Are we not living well into the 21st century?”
Ordained a priest in 1992, Bishop Guo has been vice secretary-general of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and a Catholic representative of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

Church sources told UCA News that the laypeople in Chengde, who are simple in their faith and loyal to the pope, have no choice but to accept their new bishop.

“After all, (Bishop) Guo’s reputation among the local faithful is not bad,” a Pingquan Catholic told UCA News.

According to the Italian paper La Stampa, the Chinese Foreign Minstry spokesman Hong Lei said: “Any kind of statement or action is a measure of restriction of freedom and not tolerance. ”