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Vatican decries reports of unauthorized episcopal ordinations in ‘underground’ Chinese Church

November 07, 2016

The Vatican has reacted strongly against reports that a priest of China’s “underground” Catholic Church was ordained as a bishop last month without approval from the Holy See.

Greg Burke, the director of the Vatican press office, issued a statement on November 7 acknowledging “a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without papal mandate” in China. His statement continued:

The Holy See has not authorised any ordination, nor has it been officially informed of such events. Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.

Burke noted that the reports from China have not been confirmed, and the Vatican “hopes such reports are baseless.” But he emphasized that “it is not licit to proceed with any episcopal ordination without the necessary papal mandate, even by appealing to particular personal beliefs.”

The Vatican statement was evidently prompted by reports that an “underground” priest, Father Dong Guan Hua, had arranged to be ordained by an elderly bishop, and then offered to consecrate other bishops. Father Dong had reportedly argued that the “underground” Church needs new bishops to protect the integrity of the faith, because of concerns that the Vatican will forsake loyal Catholics by reaching an agreement with the Beijing government. The final line of Burke’s statement, alluding to “particular personal beliefs,” is clearly a rejection of that argument.

The case of Father Dong is confusing for several reasons. It is not certain that the reports of his episcopal ordination are accurate. If the stories are true, Father Dong was ordained by a prelate (Bishop Carimirus Wang Milu) who has been described as “mentally unstable.” Moreover, Father Dong himself had been excommunicated by Bishop Julius Jia Zhigou of Zhengding, a prominent leader of the “underground” Church, because of prior acts of insubordination. Finally, some Chinese Catholics suspect that the unauthorized episcopal ordination (or the reports, if no such event occurred) were arranged by the Chinese government to heighten tensions between the “official” and “underground” Catholic communities.

The reported episcopal ordination comes at a time when the Vatican is reportedly close to agreement with Chinese officials on a proposal that would allow among one of the proposed candidates. That proposal has caused intense concern among members of the “underground” Catholic community, who fear that an agreement would give the government far greater control over the Church.

 
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