Father Paul Lei Shiyin of Leshan (center)
Leshan diocese in southwestern Sichuan province is reportedly scheduled to hold its episcopal ordination on June 29, the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul.
Various Church sources said they have been informed of the ordination while Leshan diocese said the date is still undecided.
A Church source close to the Vatican said the Leshan candidate is not approved and “canonically cannot be approved in future.”
The reason is very well known to him and to many priests and bishops close to him. Even top leaders of the government-sanctioned bishops’ conference are aware of the gravity of the case and it is very strange they authorize such violations of Church traditions and canons, he said.
“We hope the open Church authority in China will investigate more about the suitability of these candidates and, for the good of the Church, avoid another illicit ordination in the future. They should not use the excuse of pastoral care or evangelization to fill in new leaders, or to use Church matters to reach some other goals without looking at Church principles,” he said.
The source also believes the civil authorities will not allow tensions and provocations inside Catholic communities at this sensitive moment for China.
Some priests expressed they are in a dilemma whether to attend the ordination after learning Father Lei has not got papal mandate. Some local Catholics said that if Father Lei goes for the ordination, they will protest in front of the church even before the event.
The bishop candidate, Father Paul Lei Shiyin, will be ordained on his feast day. However, it is also the traditional Church feast when the pope gathers all new archbishops named during the previous year to give each a pallium, which symbolizes the bishop's unity with the pope.
Father Lei was elected in 2010 with 27 supporting votes out of 31 voters, comprising all 16 diocesan priests, four nuns, one seminarian and 10 laypeople.
He is a vice-chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and a Catholic deputy of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, top advisory body of the Beijing government.
Other sources said some bishops and diocesan administrators of neighboring dioceses have not returned home after attending the June 21 funeral of Father Simon Li Zhigang, bishop candidate of Chengdu, in the Sichuan provincial capital.
They have lost contact with their bishops and administrators and are worried the Church leaders may have to participate in the ordination, sources said.
In a Beijing meeting last weekend, top religious officials told Church leaders who hold posts of vice secretary-general or above in the government-sanctioned “open” Church authorities that China will firmly insist on continuing ordaining bishops on its own.
The coming ordination is probably the first case since the Holy See issued the Declaration on the correct application of the canonical penalty of excommunication for unapproved bishop ordinations (canon 1382) on June 11.
Earlier, an episcopal ordination in Wuhan (Hankou) diocese, central Hubei province, which also does not have a papal mandate, was canceled almost a week before it was scheduled to take place on June 9.
A mainland priest said the Holy See should declare that all priests should not concelebrate and faithful should not attend Masses held by excommunicated bishops who participated in illicit ordinations.
“Many bishops and priests take chances to please both the Chinese government and the Holy See. If they know the penalty is heavy, they might rethink,” he said.
Leshan diocese’s last ordinary Bishop Matthew Luo Duxi died in 2009, leaving the five dioceses in Sichuan with only Bishop John Chen Shizhong of Yibin, 94.
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