The Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples says that a group of Chinese bishops are “presumed” to be excommunicated for participating in last month's illicit ordination, until they can provide any justification for a lesser penalty.
“There is a sufficient reason to ascertain that these bishops actually committed a grave act of indiscipline through the illegitimate episcopal ordination, and, thus, are presumed to have incurred the excommunication, unless the contrary is proved,” the congregation stated in a decree made public by Fides news service on July 12.
In the same document, the congregation made it clear that Father Paul Lei Shiyin, consecrated as a bishop in the illicit June 29 ceremony, “has already incurred the latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication, which is further 'declared' publicly by the Holy See.”
The congregation stressed that both Fr. Lei Shiyin, and the bishops involved in his consecration, must seek reconciliation with the Vatican
Canon law requires the participating bishops “to immediately approach the Holy See for forgiveness and to explain reasons for which they have participated in the illegitimate episcopal ordination and wait for the reply from the Holy See.”
In the meantime, they are forbidden to celebrate Mass, administer or receive other sacraments, or hold any Church office. The congregation also informed Catholics of their duty not to receive sacraments from these individuals – except in a case of immediate need, such as impending death – or do anything else that would give the appearance of legitimacy to an illicit ministry.
This step is necessary “not because the priests and faithful are in a position to judge the conscience of the bishop in question, but because the 'presumed imputability' is not yet removed.”
Catholics who were previously under such a bishop's authority “are very much encouraged to pray for him and to remind him, when needed, of the teaching of the Church.” They should also “keep him away from celebrating all forms of liturgy or Ecclesial ceremony, and to suspend the liturgy or ceremony, in case he does not observe the prohibition.”
It may be possible for the participating bishops, who were previously in communion with the Pope and accepted as the legitimate leaders of their dioceses, to resume their ministry as bishops if they are reconciled with the Pope. For Fr. Lei Shiyin, however, such an outcome is a virtual impossibility.
The Vatican, while not denying the validity of his ordination, continues to refer to Fr. Lei Shiyin as a priest and not as a bishop. The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples stressed that he could be reconciled to Rome, but should not expect to be regarded as a legitimate bishop if a reconciliation takes place.
“The removal of excommunication is one thing; and the episcopal appointment is another. These two things are distinct,” the congregation pointed out. “The Holy See has so far expressed that for some serious reasons Fr. Lei cannot be appointed bishop.”
Excommunication, the congregation noted, is a “'medicinal' penalty” meant to evoke a response of repentance. Although his actions may have cut him off from the Church's sacramental source of life, the excommunicated person “still remains a member of the Church – the mystical body of Christ.”
“That is why he can still approach the Holy See, which is the only place he can go for reconciliation.”
Bishop Fang Xinyao, president of the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was the main celebrant for the June 29 ordination. Bishop Xinyao had previously been received into communion with the Pope and was considered a legitimate Catholic bishop.
Officials at the Patriotic Association announced on June 23 that they are looking to ordain as many as 40 new bishops without Vatican approval.
Another such ordination occurred on July 14, two days after Fides published the evangelization congregation's decree. Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lomardi called the most recent illicit ordination “very negative for the unity of the Church,” and noted that “the position of the Holy See on this matter has been made clear in recent months.”