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Mixed reception for Vatican's view

Differing response to Rome from in and out of China

Illicit ordination at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Shantou diocese, Guangdong province Illicit ordination at St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Shantou diocese, Guangdong province
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • China
  • July 26, 2011
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Though Beijing has made its long-anticipated official response yesterday to the recent excommunication of two bishops ordained without papal mandate, the Vatican’s second excommunication statement still bears attention because of differences from the first statement.

Catholics and observers in and outside China have different views on the Vatican’s July 16 statement concerning the illicit ordination in Shantou diocese, where Father Joseph Huang Bingzhang was ordained bishop of Shantou without a papal mandate on July 14.

This latest Vatican statement has drawn a greater variety of reactions from Catholics than the first one declared on another Chinese bishop on July 4.

A bishop who participated in one of the recent ordinations described the Shantou statement as “timely” but suggested it should have pronounced differential treatments for the consecrating bishops.

“A few bishops have participated in illicit ordinations twice or thrice of their free will. The Shantou statement seems to appreciate these bishops along with the others who resisted,” noted the prelate who requested anonymity.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki said he thinks the Vatican does not condemn the eight consecrating bishops in the statement, as it knows some of them were forced to take part. It will deal with each bishop in order not to increase their pressure.

“But for Bishop Johan Fang Xingyao, the main celebrant of the illicit Leshan and Shantou ordinations, he has exposed himself to excommunication as he repeated wrongdoing,” said the senior researcher of Hong Kong diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Centre.

Lam said he believes the successive illicit ordinations would not worsen China-Vatican relations, as they were manipulated by religious officials and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. “The Vatican has not changed its mind of establishing diplomatic ties with China, though there is no timetable.”

However another observer, Kwun Ping-hung, said China-Vatican relations have reached their worst stage in more than half a century. Before any consensus is reached, “any form of contact and dialogue would only relax tension temporarily and superficially.”

Compared with the Leshan statement of July 4, Kwun thinks the Shantou statement took a milder stance,  which makes him believe some people from both sides may have advocated negotiations.

As the Shantou statement emphasizes that some consecrating bishops were unwilling but forced by officials to participate, Kwun said he believed the Vatican would forgive the bishops and allow them to resume exercising their episcopal ministry soon after conducting a short investigation.

“This can be interpreted as the Holy See’s great attention to the Church in southern China,” which has a long-established and close relationship with neighboring Hong Kong and Macau dioceses, he said.

Meanwhile, some bloggers have questioned the Vatican’s policies in approving bishop candidates.

“Are the bishop candidates of Leshan and Shantou more patriotic than the other ‘self-elected and self-ordained’ bishops? Or are they less loyal to the pope than the legitimate bishops who consecrated them? They aren’t. It was merely their ordinations were untimely that coincided with the Holy See’s shift to stricter measures,” said a blogger using the pseudonym Baofuyinzhe (evangelizer).

Another blogger, Xiao Cao, wondered why the Vatican was not willing to explain its decision not to approve Father Huang because he is a deputy of the National People’s Congress. It is not unusual that in the universal Church, the clergy’s ministries are suspended due to their political involvement, he said.

Supporters of Father Huang have also doubted the legitimacy of Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, claiming that his name was not listed on the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone’s letter to Chinese bishops in 2008.

“Why does the Vatican also not clarify Bishop Zhuang’s status in the Shantou statement? It may want to protect the safety of the elderly bishop who is not recognized by the government. But with security officials already placing him under surveillance since Easter, is the government ignorant about this fact?” Xiao Cao said.

Related reports

Rome excommunicates Shantou bishop

Bishops attend unapproved ordination

Pope excommunicates Leshan bishop

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