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Keeping the Catholic Church Catholic

Some clerics seem willing to exchange evangelization for unity as opinions polarize

  • Zhang Wang, Beijing
  • China
  • April 17, 2012
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The priestly ordination in Dali continues to draw a polarization of opinions in the Church of China and I think it deserves a further discussion.

Before the event took place, I think most Chinese Catholics’ concern would be the unlawful act of Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, who is an illegitimate prelate ordained without papal mandate, ordaining new priests.

This was his first time since he became the government-sanctioned president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) in 2010. In fact, he had presided over another priestly ordination in 2008 but that ceremony received little notice then.

Like those other illicit Chinese bishops, I presume he must have waited for the Vatican will recognize him one day to get away from the difficult situation he has to face while being an illicit bishop. Thus, he has kept a low profile since he was illicitly ordained Bishop of Kunming in 2006.

On the other hand, being the head of the bishops’ conference, Ma may be a strategic target for the Vatican to triumph over. For if Ma finally reaches communion with the Holy See, it means the BCCCC is headed with their man and thus the BCCCC can build an invisible bond with the Holy See.

This view is not a new observation from me. Some Chinese amateur observers have suspected such intention of the Vatican years ago. So I believe Beijing has also noticed if Ma becomes “a good boy” of the Vatican, it will be disadvantageous in its control on the bishops’ conference, and thus demanded him to preside over the ceremony.

This is political manipulation over religious affairs.

In this incident, what made me feel shocked was that three foreign priests chose to concelebrate with the illicit bishop when they could just sit among the laypeople to witness the ceremony as a gesture to support the new priests.

They are not mainland clergy who are living in difficult situation and the Chinese government would and could not force them to participate as in the case we heard about Chinese bishops being forced to take part in illicit episcopal ordination. In other words, they concelebrated out of their freewill.

The seriousness of this gesture is that they violated the Code of Canon and has now caused confusion and scandal among the Chinese Catholics. The Congregation of the Legislative Text has already forewarned this in its declaration published last year before the illicit episcopal ordination in Leshan diocese. It explains automatic excommunication and gives advice to laypeople and clergy with regards to their relations with illicit bishops.

Such gesture also meant they endorsed the remark of Liu Bainian, a powerful lay leader dubbed “Black Pope” in China, quoted by Chinese media in March: “It is the Vatican who changes its policy. We have been walking (the path of “self-election and self-ordination” of bishops) like this for 60 years.”

Liu implied the universal Church should change to fit the model of the China Church. But he did not say is that it is a model of an independent Church!

The concelebration of the three foreign priests was sowing salt on wound to the Church in China when today our priests are struggling to follow their conscience to be true to their faith.

I know that some foreign missioners think evangelization in China is the most important above all else. That is their goal as a missionary in the first place.

They may also believe they can bring peaceful evolution to China once they convert substantial number of Catholics.

However, evangelization at the expense of the unity of the Church is far too huge.

What Good News are we spreading when the Catholic Church is no longer a Catholic Church?

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