China’s government-run Catholic organization has ordained a bishop without the approval of the Pope. In response, a prominent cardinal said the action never should have happened.
Fr. Guo Jincai was ordained at Pingquan Church in northeastern Hebei province’s Chengde city on Nov. 20 in the presence of eight Vatican-approved bishops.
The ordination took place under strong security, with dozens of police blocking the building and denying entrance to reporters, the Associated Press says. At least three of the bishops had been sequestered by the government for several days to pressure them to participate.
China and the Vatican broke off diplomatic relations nearly 60 years ago over the unapproved ordinations of bishops. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Chinese government had improved in recent years, though Catholics loyal to Rome have faced harassment and persecution.
The newly ordained Bishop Guo is deputy secretary of the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which will soon hold a meeting to determine its leadership.
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, an important aide to Pope Benedict XVI on China affairs, lamented the action.
“I am in no mood for celebration,” he commented, according to UCA News. He said he was disheartened to see “what should never have happened has happened again.” He was certain that the same sadness prevailed among many Chinese Catholics as well as for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
“Once more they have crucified Jesus,” he declared.
Liu Bainian, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association’s vice chairman, said the Vatican knew about the need for a bishop in the diocese two years ago.
“I believe the Pope loves China. I believe just a handful of people in the Vatican are hindering the improvement of relations," he told the Associated Press, saying that the lack of a bishop hindered the spread of the Gospel.
"We should not let any political reasons interfere with the spread of the Gospel in China," he added.
The official also reported that in time China would select bishops for more than 40 vacant dioceses. He expressed hope that the Vatican would endorse them.
Caridnal Zen was critical of Liu Bainian, saying bishops were forced to participate in the ordination by a “fascist method.” While not suggesting immediate condemnation of the bishops involved, the cardinal said it would be misguided to treat the illicit ordinations lightly.
In a Nov. 18 statement, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi criticized reports that the Chinese government was trying to force Catholic bishops to participate, saying such acts would be “grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience."
He added that the Vatican considered the ordination to be “illicit” and to be damaging to the “constructive relations” between China and the Holy See.
The last ordination of a bishop without papal approval in China came in 2006.
Scholars and church activists estimate that there are as many as 60 million Chinese Catholics loyal to the Pope, about three times the size of the government-backed church.