.- The Vatican reacted this weekend to the decision of the Chinese government to ordain another Catholic bishop without Vatican approval. The Holy See said the illicit ordination of Fr. John Wang Renlei, which took place on November 30th, was a great cause of “sadness” for the Church.
The Vatican statement said that Pope Benedict learned about the ordination “with great sadness,” because it occurred without the mandate of the Pope, “without respecting the discipline of the Catholic Church concerning the appointment of bishops.”
While Beijing views papal appointments to the Chinese episcopate as interference in its internal affairs, episcopal ordinations without Papal approval are outside of Church law.
Last week’s ordination, the communiqué continued, is just the latest of the, “illegitimate episcopal ordinations which have been afflicting the Catholic Church in China for a number of decades.”
The illicit ordinations are, “creating divisions in diocesan communities and tormenting the consciences of many ecclesiastics and faithful,” the Vatican message continued. “This extremely grave series of acts, which offend the religious sentiments of all Catholics in China and the rest of the world, is the fruit and consequence of a vision of the Church that does not correspond to Catholic doctrine and undermines the fundamental principles of her hierarchical structure.”
“Indeed,” the statement continued, “as Vatican Council II makes clear, 'one is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body.'"
The Vatican said it attempted to take steps to stop the ordination, despite learning of it at the last minute. The press release said that the Holy See made every possible effort, “in order to prevent an act that would have produced a fresh laceration in ecclesial communion.”
“In fact, an illegitimate episcopal ordination is an act objectively so serious that Canon Law lays down severe penalties for those who confer or receive it, assuming the act was carried out in conditions of true freedom.”
The Holy See says it is aware of the “spiritual crisis and suffering,” of the bishops who were compelled to take part in the ordination, “thus contravening the Catholic tradition which, in their hearts, they would like to follow faithfully.”
Several reports indicated that some bishops and priests who express their allegiance to the universal Church and serve the “underground” Church in China were forced to attend and celebrate the illicit ordination.
“The Holy See also shares the interior disquiet of those Catholics - priests, religious and laity - who find themselves obliged to accept a pastor whom they know is not in full hierarchical communion with the head of the College of Bishops or with other bishops around the world.”
Beijing broke ties with the Vatican in the 1950’s after the communists took power and set up a separate state-sanctioned Catholic church outside Vatican authority. However, millions are said to worship in underground churches that are loyal to Rome and millions more consider themselves in union with Rome, despite participating in parishes which are controlled by the government.
"It is a consolation to note that, despite past and present difficulties, almost the entirety of bishops, priests, religious and lay people in China, conscious of their status as living limbs of the Universal Church, have maintained a profound communion of faith and of life with Peter's Successor and with all Catholic communities around the world,” the Holy See’s message said.
"As regards these episcopal ordinations,” it concluded, “the Holy See cannot accept being faced with a 'fait accompli.' Therefore, it deplores the procedure with which the ordination of Fr. Wang Renlei in Xuzhou was carried out, and hopes that incidents of this kind will not be repeated in the future."
Yesterday China defended the ordination, saying criticism from the Vatican was "unreasonable," state media reported.
On Sunday, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted an unnamed spokesman of the State Administration of Religious Affairs as saying China and the Vatican have no official ties and have not reached an understanding on the ordination of bishops.
The spokesman added that China had informed the Vatican in advance of the selection and ordination.
"Given the status quo of the China-Vatican relations and the fact that the Chinese Catholic Bishops College has conducted assessments and the Xuzhou diocese has completed the selection and been prepared for the ordination, the Vatican's requests of stopping and postponing the ordination is unreasonable," the spokesman said.