Bishop Joseph Cai Binrui of Xiamen ordains three new priests
On February 8, the sixth day of Chinese New Year, double happiness descended upon the Muyang parish of the “open” community of Mindong diocese, southeastern Fujian province with the consecration of a renovated church and the ordination of three new priests.
Two of the priests came from Mindong and one from neighboring Guangdong province.
Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu of Mindong, who is not in communion with the pope, officiated at the church consecration ceremony.
He then concelebrated the priestly ordination that was presided over by Bishop Joseph Cai Bingrui of Xiamen (Amoy), also in Fujian, who was himself ordained with papal mandate last May.
However, amid the special and even confusing environment in mainland China, questions emerge about even such a happy occasion.
Mindong diocese has two bishops - underground Bishop Vincent Huang Shoucheng, 89, who leads nearly 50 priests and 97 percent of the 70,000 faithful - and open Bishop Zhan, 50, who has seven or eight priests, including the two new ones, and less than three percent of the faithful.
Although the two communities do not have communion in sacraments, they have co-existed peacefully for years. Bishop Zhan has not officiated at any episcopal or priestly ordinations since he became a bishop in 2000.
In Xiamen diocese, by contrast, after Bishop Cai was ordained, the underground priest who served in Xiamen for 13 years immediately withdrew and returned to neighboring Fuzhou diocese where he belongs.
Fuzhou, which currently has no bishop, is entrusted to the care of Bishop Huang and so the gesture can be seen as expressing the prelate and the Fuzhou underground community’s respect to Bishop Cai’s legitimate status and a practical move toward unity.
But this time, Bishop Cai did not obtain approval from the legitimate Bishop Huang and performed the sacrament of holy orders in Mindong diocese on the request from the illegitimate Bishop Zhan.
This apparently violates canon 1017 of the Code of Canon Law, which says: “A bishop cannot confer orders outside his own jurisdiction without the permission of the diocesan bishop.”
It is impossible that Bishop Cai does not know which of the two Mindong bishops is recognized by the Holy See. So how does he look upon the episcopate of Bishop Huang?
Moreover, if a new priest receives ordination from a legitimate bishop but works under an illegitimate bishop, it is still problematic as the priest’s authority comes from his bishop.
The only advantage of refusing ordaination from his illegitimate bishop is that he can tell the faithful: “I was ordained by a legitimate bishop.” Perhaps that would help the faithful to accept him but insiders would know easily that is a trick to deceive himself and others.
To make a “happy occasion” truly happy, the local Church should not just consider the practicality of getting priests to serve. It should also take into account the integrity of the Catholic faith and communion with the universal Church.
After all, Catholicism has the characteristic of “one”. If we love God and His Church, how can we ignore the relevant provisions of the canon law?
Reconciliation is not just a lip service but needs concrete actions to put into practice.
If a Vatican-approved bishop have an attitude of “refusal” towards another bishop and violates his legitimate rights, is such act for or against unity?
The pope’s letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 was designed to lead the Church in China back to normal faith life.
However, without sincere move from our side, where does unity come from?
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