The Vatican is describing the recent ordination of a Chinese bishop without the approval of Rome as “gravely illegitimate” but is stopping short of definitely declaring him excommunicated.
Father Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained as Bishop of Chendge in northern China last November. In a communiqué issued April 14 the Vatican said on the basis of the information and testimonies it has received so far, it has “no reason to consider it invalid,” although it “does regard it as gravely illegitimate, since it was conferred without the Papal mandate.”
The Vatican said that the manner of Bishop Jincai’s ordination “renders illegitimate” the exercise of his ministry.
The statement was published at the conclusion of a three-day Vatican conference entitled, “The Commission for the Catholic Church in China.”
At present, the Chinese government only allows the state-controlled “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” and a similarly run bishops’ conference to operate within the country. Neither organization acknowledges the authority of the Pope and they in turn are not recognized by the Church.
Until the ordination of Bishop Jincai last year, an agreement by which the association’s nominations for bishops would receive tacit approval from the Holy See seemed to have emerged. Indeed, last month’s appointment of a bishop in the city of Jiangmen, approved by Rome, would suggest that protocol is now back in place.
In the meantime, the Vatican says it’s not absolutely certain that Bishop Guo Jincai or the other bishops involved in his ordination have been excommunicated. “The external pressures and constrictions could mean that excommunication is not automatically incurred. However, there remains a grave wound, perpetrated on the ecclesial body,” the April 14 statement said.
Overall, one of the pressing issues for the Commission is the fact that numerous Chinese dioceses remain vacant due to the government’s restrictions on Rome’s ability to appoint bishops. The China Commission made that point by referencing a statement from Pope Benedict in which he said “the Holy See would desire to be completely free to appoint Bishops” and that he trusts an accord can be reached with the government.
The final session of the Commission was joined by the Holy Father. Pope Benedict XVI entrusted “the Chinese faithful to the intercession of “Mary, Most Holy, Queen of China” and invited “all the Church to dedicate May 24, liturgical memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Help of Christians, to prayer for the Church in China.”
It’s estimated there are some 6 million Catholics in China, although millions more are worshiping outside the government-approved Church.