The Vatican issued a statement June 6 explaining the Church’s teachings on bishops ordained without the Pope's approval.
The statement points out that illicit ordinations cause “scandal and confusion, which must not be underestimated and that require—on the part of the bishops involved—the need to recover their authority through signs of communion and penance that can be observed by all.”
The statement was published by the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano.
The statement does not refer to any specific country, but offers an overview of possible extenuating circumstances that relate to episcopal ordinations carried out in China without the authorization of the Holy See and under the pressure of government authorities.
The most recent illicit ordination in China took place in November 2010. The government, which directs the Chinese Patriotic Association, had also scheduled an ordination for June 9, but was postponed at the last minute due to resistance from both Catholics and the priest selected to be ordained bishop.
The pontifical council’s statement refers to the correct application of canon 1382, which states that “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.”
The statement considers “grave fear, unjust provocation, ignorance of canon law,” and others causes, “to be extenuating circumstances that preclude a latae sententiae penalty” in the case of an ordination without the Pope’s permission.
It also recognizes that each participant in such an ordination “knows the degree of his personal involvement in his heart, and an upright conscience will indicate to each person whether or not he incurs a latae sententiae penalty.”
It also reiterates that anyone who incurs excommunication may not take part in the celebration of the Eucharist or any other public ceremony, celebrate or receive the sacraments, or exercise any office of ecclesial governance. To do so would be to “commit a morally illicit act and therefore a sacrilege.”
In some cases, the statement notes, the Holy See will be responsible for declaring automatic excommunication, if it exists, or for imposing “other sanctions or penances, if necessary to repair the scandal, to clear up confusion among the faithful and, in general, to safeguard ecclesiastical discipline.”