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China proceeds with illicit ordination; 8 bishops compelled to participate

Catholic World News - July 14, 2011

Ignoring urgent warnings from the Vatican, China’s Catholic Patriotic Association ordained a new bishop for the Shantou diocese on July 14 without approval from the Holy See. The illicit ordination escalates an already tense conflict between Rome and Beijing.

Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang became the 3rd Chinese bishop ordained in defiance of the Vatican. Following the last such unauthorized ordination, the Vatican formally announced that the newly installed Bishop Joseph Lei Shiyin of Leshan has been excommunicated, along with the other bishops who participated in his ordination.

Bishop Fang Xinyao, the president of the Catholic Patriotic Association, presided at the July 14 ceremony in Shantou. Eight other bishops—all of them recognized by the Holy See—joined in the ceremony. At least some of those 8 bishops, and perhaps all, had been forced by police to participate in the rite.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, said that Pope Benedict XVI was following the latest developments in China "with sorrow and concern." In his messages to the Chinese Church, the Pope has exhorted Catholics to protect the unity among the faithful, avoiding moves that would deepen divisions between the government-approved "official" Church and the "underground" Church that remains loyal to Rome.

News-service reports of the ordination downplayed the use of force by Chinese officials. A Reuters report said that the 8 bishops “were requested by civil authorities” to attend the Shantou ceremony , and “accompanied by police” to the ceremony. In fact, AsiaNews reported that several bishops had been taken into custody by police, beginning several days before the ceremony, and transported under guard to Shantou. One other bishop who was ordered to attend, Bishop Paul Pei Junmin of Liaoning, remained in his cathedral, surrounded by priests of his diocese, in order to escape being arrested and compelled to participate. London’s Daily Telegraph described the Chinese officials’ seizure of bishops as kidnapping. The Vatican has warned that bishops who participate in illicit ordinations are subject to the penalty of excommunication. Although that penalty does not apply to those who can show that they acted under compulsion, the Vatican has indicated that even bishops who were forced to participate should make a public act of reparation to heal the wound inflicted on the unity of the Church.

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