The Vatican has issued a sharply worded rebuke to China for ordaining a new bishop who was not appointed or approved by the Pope.
The Nov. 20 ordination of Father Joseph Guo Jincai in the northeastern city of Chengde was “a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline,” the Vatican said in a statement issued Nov. 24 in Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI received news of the ordination “with deep regret,” according to the statement.
“This ordination not only does not contribute to the good of the Catholics of Chengde, but … humiliates them, because the Chinese civil authorities wish to impose on them a pastor who is not in full communion, either with the Holy Father or with the other bishops throughout the world,” the Vatican said.
Father Guo, now faces what the Vatican called “painful repercussions” — automatic ex-communication.
The Vatican also condemned Chinese authorities for putting several bishops loyal to Rome under house arrest in an attempt to force them to participate in the ordination.
The Vatican called these strong-arm tactics “a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience.” It promised to investigate the incident further and make “a detailed evaluation of what has happened.”
The ordination complicates an already tense situation between Rome and Beijing.
Since the communist takeover of China in 1949, Catholics have been forced to worship in state-approved “patriotic” churches, with communist leaders picking their bishops. Catholics faithful to Rome have remained underground and are served by bishops and priests ordained secretly and approved by the Pope. Underground Catholics have faced persecution from the Chinese government, including being placed in jail for years.
In recent years relations have warmed. Rome has recognized many of the bishops appointed by Chinese authorities, and communist leaders have shown a willingness to cooperate with Rome in appointing new bishops. In a 2007 letter to China’s Catholics, the Pope expressed a new desire to normalize relations.
The ordination of Fr. Guo, a top official in the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, throws these hopeful developments into question.
And the new Vatican statement is unusually blunt and forceful in responding to the provocative nature of the ordination.
Chinese officials’ “claim to place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community does not correspond to Catholic doctrine; it offends the Holy Father, the Church in China and the universal Church, and further complicates the present pastoral difficulties,” the statement said.
The statement took the unusual step of singling out by name Liu Bainian, the vice chairman of the government-backed Church. Under his “influence,” the Vatican said, the state-approved Church has “adopted attitudes that gravely damage the Catholic Church and hamper … dialogue.”
According to the statement, Church officials had been working behind the scenes throughout the year to try to stop Fr. Guo’s ordination. “In spite of this,” the Vatican said, “authorities decided to proceed unilaterally, to the detriment of the atmosphere of respect that had been created with great effort.”
The Vatican statement concludes with a sharply worded prayer for the people of China and their communist rulers:
“The Catholics of the entire world are following with particular attention the troubled journey of the Church in China: the spiritual solidarity with which they accompany the vicissitudes of their Chinese brothers and sisters becomes a fervent prayer to the Lord of history, so that he may be close to them, increase their hope and fortitude, and give them consolation in moments of trial.”