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CHINA-EXCOMMUNICATE May-5-2006 (400 words) With photos posted May 3. xxxi

Canon lawyer: Chinese not excommunicated until pope says so publicly

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The threat of excommunication hangs over two Chinese bishops ordained without papal approval, but only if they acted knowingly and freely, said a canon lawyer.

And even if they incurred excommunication automatically by acting of their own free will, the penalty is limited until Pope Benedict XVI publicly declares their excommunication to the bishops and their faithful, said Jesuit Father James Conn, a professor of canon law at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said May 4 that the ordination of Bishop Joseph Liu Xinhong of Anhui May 3 and the ordination of Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming April 30 could lead to "severe canonical sanctions."

He referred specifically to Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law: "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."

But Navarro-Valls also said the Vatican knew it was possible that the bishops who were ordained and those ordaining them "were placed under strong pressure and threats" to participate.

Canon 1323 specifies that a person "coerced by grave fear, even if only relatively grave," is not subject to penalty.

Father Conn said Navarro-Valls "simply noted that the act (of ordination without approval) objectively has this automatic penalty attached, but there always are conditions."

If the bishops involved "were not laboring under an external burden, it would be clear," he said.

Excommunication "may have been incurred, but we do not know that because we do not know their consciences or the external factors involved," Father Conn said.

If they were automatically excommunicated, they immediately are forbidden to celebrate the sacraments, receive the sacraments or perform the functions of a bishop unless the good of souls requires them to do so, he said.

Father Conn said the penalty is formal and more extensive once it is publicly declared by the pope, the only person in the church with the authority to impose penal sanctions on a bishop.

Public notification is not simply a formality, he said, but it is "for the good of the people of God," who have a right to know when a minister is celebrating the sacraments illicitly.

"There cannot be just a vague declaration because the good of souls is at stake," Father Conn said.


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