Chinese bishops face excommunication for unapproved ordination

The head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and other bishops previously in communion with the Pope are facing excommunication for ordaining a bishop without Vatican approval.

“Fr. Lei Shiyin, ordained without the papal mandate and hence illegitimately, has no authority to govern the diocesan Catholic community,” the Vatican said in a July 4 communique, adding, “and the Holy See does not recognize him as the bishop of the Diocese of Leshan.”

The Vatican press office stated that the Leshan ordination had “deeply saddened the Holy Father, who wishes to send to the beloved faithful in China a word of encouragement and hope, inviting them to prayer and unity.”

“The consecrating bishops have exposed themselves to the grave canonical sanctions laid down by the law of the Church,” the Vatican said. The normal penalty for all participants in an illegitimate ordination is excommunication, unless they were coerced into attending.

Canon 1382 of the Roman Catholic Church's Code of Canon Law states both the bishop who “without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person as Bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”

Bishop Fang Xinyao, the president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, was the main celebrant for the ordination. The Patriotic Association is controlled by the Chinese communist government.

Bishop Xinyao had previously been received into communion with the Pope and was considered a legitimate Catholic bishop. But his participation in the ordination, if undertaken freely, jeopardizes his standing in the Church.

Monday's communique explained that the act was “directly opposed” to the spiritual direction and primacy of the Pope, which the Church requires to survive and develop.

The Vatican also indicated their objections to the individual ordained last week, saying Fr. Lei Shiyin was not fit to be a bishop.

“Fr. Lei Shiyin had been informed, for some time, that he was unacceptable to the Holy See as an episcopal candidate for proven and very grave reasons,” the Vatican statement said. According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, the bishop is known to have had an affair with a woman and fathered a child.

The Leshan ordination may be a sign of things to come in China. Officials at the Patriotic Association announced June 23 that they are looking to ordain as many as 40 new bishops without Vatican approval.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government has also taken steps against a candidate for ordination who received approval from the Pope. Government officials removed Bishop-elect Joseph Sun Jigen from the diocese of Handan, where he was scheduled to be ordained on June 29.

Monday's warning to Leshan's illegitimate bishop and his consecrators comes amid a period of increased difficulty between the Vatican and the Chinese government – which began last November with an unauthorized bishop ordination, and intensified soon after as bishops and priests were forced to attend meetings not approved by the Vatican.

This week's statement reiterated Pope Benedict XVI's insistence that the Chinese Catholics must abide by the same norms that govern the universal Church elsewhere.

“If it is desired that the Church in China be Catholic, the Church's doctrine and discipline must be respected,” the Vatican said.

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