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CHINA-ORDAIN (SECOND UPDATE) Dec-4-2006 (1,240 words) With photos posted Nov. 30. xxxi

Vatican statement says pope saddened by illicit Chinese ordinations

By Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened by the Nov. 30 ordination of a Chinese bishop without Vatican approval, an act that can further fracture the Catholic community in mainland China, said a statement from the Vatican.

In a Dec. 2 statement, the Vatican said officials found out at "the last minute" about plans to ordain Father Wang Renlei, 36, as coadjutor bishop of Xuzhou, China, at the diocese's Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral.

Still, Vatican officials did what they could "so that this act, which would have produced a new laceration in the ecclesial community, would not come about," the statement said.

"In fact, an illegitimate episcopal ordination is an act that is so objectively serious that canon law establishes severe sanctions for those who confer it and those who receive it," the statement said.

The new bishop and the bishops who ordained him face automatic excommunication if they acted of their own free will, the Vatican said.

"The Holy See is aware of the spiritual drama and suffering of those churchmen -- consecrating bishops and ordinands -- who find themselves forced to be an active part of illegitimate episcopal ordinations, thus going against the Catholic tradition that in their hearts they desire to follow faithfully," the statement said.

Father John Dai Zhenbao, a parish priest at the cathedral, told the Asian church news agency UCA News that Bishop Joseph Zhao Fengchang of Yanggu was the ordaining prelate.

Bishops Francis Lu Xinping of Nanjing and Peter Joseph Xu Honggen of Suzhou were the other ordaining prelates, Father Dai said.

Also present at the episcopal ordination were Bishop Thomas Qian Yurong, 94, of Xuzhou and Bishop Peter Feng Xinmao of Hengshui. Except for Bishops Lu and Qian, all the other bishops involved have been approved by the Vatican.

According to a laywoman who attended the ordination, Bishop Qian, clad in his chasuble, joined the liturgy but did not preside. She described the ordination Mass as solemn and smooth and said she did not hear Catholics discussing the illegitimacy of the bishop's ordination.

The third illicit episcopal ordination this year came several months after Bishops Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming and Joseph Liu Xinhong of Anhui were ordained April 30 and May 3, respectively, despite opposition from the Vatican.

The Rome-based missionary news agency AsiaNews reported that Bishop Xu and Bishop Li Liangui of Xianxian were kidnapped by members of the Religious Affairs Bureau to force them to participate in the ordination. It said the prelates were taken away by car on the pretext of looking at property owned by the church in Tianjin, but instead found themselves under guard in Xuzhou.

AsiaNews reported that Bishop Li was able to escape.

Maryknoll Sister Janet Carroll of the U.S. Catholic China Bureau, who knows Bishop Xu, told Catholic News Service she believed he either was forced to participate or was tricked into participating. She said he was one of 12 priests called to be ordained bishops illicitly in January 2000 and "he absolutely refused" -- only five were ordained. Even later, after Bishop Xu was approved as a bishop by the Vatican, he refused ordination until he was allowed to be ordained by valid bishops in communion with Rome, she said.

"I would suspect that he was told that permission had come from Rome. That's what happened with (Bishop) Ma," Sister Janet said Nov. 30.

She said a bishop could go through the motions of an illicit ordination, but there is no way of knowing "what's in his heart and in his mind." If, in his heart, the bishop is refusing to ordain someone illicitly, then the ordination is not valid, she said.

"All of this just shows what a circus it is," she said. "It's also sad because it involved people who are known to be loyal and faithful leaders of the church" who were forced to participate.

In 1957, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association was formed by the government to assure Catholics' harmony with state policies and to separate the church from "foreign interference," especially from its ties with the Vatican. Although initially bishops elected and ordained by members of the patriotic association did not have Vatican approval, in the mid-1980s bishops began secretly seeking such approval. Church sources say as many as 90 percent of the bishops in the government-approved church are recognized as legitimate bishops by the Vatican.

Last year, several new Chinese bishops chosen by the Vatican received government approval. In many of those ordinations, a papal bull expressing approval was read at the ordination.

One source familiar with the Catholic Church in China told CNS that China desperately wants to normalize relations with the Vatican. When Chinese officials felt the Vatican was not paying enough attention to them, they gave the go-ahead for the ordinations of the first two illicit bishops, the source said.

In June, less than two months later, two high-level Vatican officials visited China.

After the Nov. 30 ordination, Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, who attended the ceremony, told UCA News that Chinese church officials did not contact the Vatican about it, since there is no proper channel for doing so. However, he said church officials asked the Chinese government to pass the message to the Vatican that Father Wang had been elected to the bishop's post and would be ordained.

Responding to reported concerns that the new bishop had not applied for papal approval and time was not given for the Vatican to undertake an investigation of the candidate, Liu said the new bishop had informed the Vatican about his election and ordination through a third party. He said church officials investigated the candidate, who was elected unanimously by priests, nuns and religious of the diocese.

"The Vatican should have trust in the China church -- that it would not approve a candidate that does not love the church and the country," he said.

He also denied reports that the Religious Affairs Bureau kidnapped the bishops.

Vatican officials were not immediately available for comment.

The new bishop, born in Weishan in Shandong province, graduated from the National Seminary in Beijing and was ordained a priest in 1996. He was appointed vicar general of Xuzhou in 2001 and has been working in the bishop's house since January 2005.

According to a local church source, Bishops Qian and Wang, an elderly priest and six younger priests currently make up the Xuzhou clergy. The source, who did not attend the ordination, described the new bishop as an "obedient" person who is "skillful in making connections with various parties."

The source told UCA News Nov. 30 that the situation of the Xuzhou Diocese is complex due to internal problems and government interference. In recent years three priests have left the diocese, and several seminarians have left the seminary, the source said.

After the ordination, spokeswoman Jiang Yu of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs answered reporters' questions by saying that in view of historical factors and the current situation of the Chinese Catholic Church, the Vatican should look positively on the "self-elected, self-ordained" bishops in China.

She reiterated the two prerequisites for the Vatican to establish formal relations with China: that the Vatican must sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and must not interfere in China's internal affairs.

"We sincerely hope for the improvement of our relations with the Vatican," she said.


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