China may be trying to force bishops loyal to Rome to participate in the ordination of a bishop chosen by the Chinese government without the Pope’s approval.
In an statement issued Nov. 18, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said that if the reports are accurate, China’s actions would mark “grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience."
The Vatican, he added, considers the planned ordination of Father Joseph Guo Jincai in the northeastern province of Hebei to be “illicit.”
Going ahead with his ordination would be “damaging to the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See," Fr. Lombardi warned.
The official Patriotic Chinese Church has been making an effort to work with the Pope on the selection of bishops in recent years.
UCA News, the Asian Church news agency, reported that the ordination is planned for Nov. 20. It further reported that Chinese government officials are planning to force at least five bishops loyal to Rome to concelebrate the ordination Mass. There are reports, the agency said, of bishops being taken into custody to compel their participation in the ceremony.
The story is not a new one for the Vatican and China. They broke off diplomatic relations nearly 60 years ago over issues with the ordination of two bishops who did not have the approval of then-Pope Pius XII.
The bishops of the Catholic Church must all be given the approval of the Pope, who works with the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops in the selection of the diocesan leaders.
Since Pope Benedict wrote a letter to Chinese Catholics in May 2007 clarifying the relationship of clergy and lay faithful within the Roman Catholic Church, relations with the State-run Church have been smoother.
In that 2007 letter, he put particular emphasis on the "indispensable" nature of the communion and unity of bishops to the Pope and thus the entire Church.
Fr. Lombardi said the Vatican is in contact with Chinese authorities to seek clarification on this most recent issue.