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Church laws are lessons for China

Use of Canon law on China an example for the state

  • Zhang Wang, Beijing
  • China
  • June 20, 2012
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Heilongjiang diocese is going to ordain a new bishop soon. The candidate does not have approval from the Holy See, thus it is very likely going to be another illicit ordination.

We can expect another round of discussions among Chinese Catholics. We can also expect some of these Catholics will feel uneasy to hear criticism against those who violate Church principles.

A month ago, a reader left a comment on the UCAN China website expressing his “annoyance” that the Chinese Catholic site has too many discussions on Church principles week after week.

He thinks people are putting too much stress on “punishment without love.” He thinks more energy should be spent on looking at the achievements of evangelization in China.

His misconception on the repeated discussions on Church principles probably arose from the fact that there were three problematic priesthood and episcopal ordinations closely following one another in March and April as well as the plenary meeting of the Vatican’s China Commission, which also stated the importance of principle in its communique after the gathering.

All these deserved our attention because, as the communique says, clarity of the face of the Church has been obfuscated by some acts of certain bishops. These acts violated the conscience of Chinese Catholics.

In fact, the Code of Canon Law is a valuable asset of our Church. It is a set of rules to keep the Catholic Church to be the one, holy and apostolic Church of Christ.

Rather than stressing punishment, Fr John Russell, veteran judicial vicar of Hong Kong diocese before his retirement, said in a recent interview that Canon Law is to “serve people with charity.”

Let’s take the two excommunication cases last year as examples. The Holy See declared the excommunications of two Chinese priests who received episcopal ordinations without a papal mandate.

Does that mean the Vatican sent them to jail? Everyone knows the answer. These priests continue to violate Church principles.

Excommunication was just a kind reminder to the wrongdoers: “Hey, you are wrong.”

The mother Church is waiting for their consciences to awaken and repent. It can do nothing further. It is medicinal in purpose. It is imposed to heal those who have committed misdeeds which also inflict hurt on the Church.

More than this, I think there is another important aspect of Church law for China.

It requires us to think beyond the Church in that, when the Holy See applies the Canons rightly, it can exemplify “what the rule of law is” to Communist China which is often criticized for its rule of man and the notorious practice of the Communist party of placing itself above the law.

So unless we don’t want offenders to be free of sins and don’t want to see our country become democratic, why shouldn’t we encourage more discussion on the rights and wrongs of issues of major importance? Why fear having rational debates?

During a visit to London yesterday, Myanmar pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi said, “The progress that we hope to make with regard to democratization and reform depends so much on an understanding of the importance of the rule of law."

China is also at a critical moment regarding change. As Chinese, we hope that our country can become more open and democratic where there are no more rights abuses. As dutiful citizens, we should help our fellow faithful, comrades, as well as state leaders to understand the importance of the rule of law, and in the case of the Church, the application of Canon Law.

Zhang Wang is the pen name of a Catholic blogger in China

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