The Nov. 30 ordination of a new Chinese bishop has approval from the Vatican, though there are concerns about how the ceremony might be publicized and who will participate.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed on Nov. 29 that Father Peter Luo Xuegang was “a candidate approved by the Holy See” to be consecrated as an auxiliary bishop for the Diocese of Yibin.
“I hope of course,” he told Fides news agency, “that if the ordination takes place the norms of the Catholic Church will be respected, namely that the faithful are informed about the approval of the candidate by the Holy See, and that no illegitimate bishop participates in the liturgical ceremony.”
Under those conditions, Fr. Lombardi said, the event “would be an encouragement for the Catholic community” in China.
At a Nov. 29 news briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing's Communist government has “always been sincere about improving relations with the Vatican.”
However, the country has made several provocative moves in relation to the Church over the past twelve months—including a series of unapproved bishop ordinations that began in November 2010, and the reported coercion of clerics to force their participation in state functions.
China's state-administered Catholic Patriotic Association includes a large number of bishops accepted as legitimate by the Holy See. But the Vatican informed them in July 2011 that they would face excommunication if they willingly helped to ordain other bishops not approved by Rome.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman claimed on Tuesday that recent ordinations in his country have promoted “the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism,” according to the Associated Press.
Yet in a July 2011 response to one of the illicit ordinations, the Vatican said that Pope Benedict XVI “deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated” by authorities who challenge his right to confirm or reject proposed bishops.
One rejected candidate, who was nonetheless ordained in June 2011 and consequently excommunicated, is Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin. There is speculation that he may attend Wednesday's planned ordination, though it is unclear whether he would take a role in the liturgy as forbidden by the Vatican.
While China's foreign ministry claims to want better relations with the Holy See, the government reaction to Shiyin's excommunication showed no willingness to concede on the issue of ordinations.
“The majority of priests and believers will more resolutely choose the path of independently selecting and ordaining its bishops, and the government will continue to support and encourage such practice,” China's State Administration for Religious Affairs said in a July 25 response to the excommunication.