Three deacons of Shantou (second to fourth right) received priestly ordinations
The non-Vatican approved bishop in Kunming, in southwestern Yunnan province, ordained six deacons recently, arousing questions regarding their legitimacy.
On November 30, when the world was focusing on a controversial episcopal ordination in Yibin in neighboring Sichuan province, Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming presided over the diaconal ordinations at a rural church in Shilin County.
Church sources said some of the deacons were unwilling to be ordained by Bishop Ma, who has no authority to govern the diocese.
Since the diaconal ordinations have been performed by him without legitimate dimissorial letters signed by Fr Lawrence Zhang Wenchang, the Vatican-appointed diocesan administrator of Kunming, the legitimacy of these ordinations is questionable, they said.
Bishop Ma did not seek approval from Fr Zhang despite having visited the elderly priest several times since he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in October, they noted.
They are worried more difficulties and confusion will arise when these deacons become priests as canonical norms may be violated again.
A similar incident happened earlier in Shantou diocese.
Fr Joseph Huang Bingzhang, who ordained a bishop without papal approval and was subsequently excommunicated by the Holy See, sent three deacons to another diocese to receive priestly ordination on October 27. Vatican-approved Bishop Peter Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou, who is not yet recognized by the government, was not consulted beforehand.
“Since the granting of dimissorial letters is a jurisdictional act, it is necessary that the grantors have the authority. For example, an auxiliary or illicit bishop cannot grant such letters,” said a Church canonist who requested anonymity.
In the past the Vatican has recognized deacons and priests ordained by illicit bishops under special faculties and conditions, which were granted to address particular pastoral necessities due to the special circumstances in China.
However, now the Code of Canon Law should be observed after Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007 revoked all faculties, said the canonist.
Even if there is no legitimate bishop or diocesan administrator, the Holy See has the authority to issue dimissorial letters or give another instruction, he noted.
As for the new priests in Shantou, Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher at Hong Kong diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Centre
, suggested they “seek forgiveness and communion with Bishop Zhuang and obey his assignment.”
Meanwhile, they should stop doing pastoral work and administering sacraments, he said, citing Canon 1383 that a bishop who ordains a person without a proper dimissorial letter is prohibited for a year from conferring holy orders, and the person who received the ordination is automatically suspended.
Otherwise, all the sacraments performed by these new priests will be illicit and also invalid as in the case of Catholic marriages where a proper form is strictly requested according to Canon 1108-1109, he said.
If they refuse, Lam said: “We have the responsibility to tell Catholics not to attend their Masses or receive any sacrament from them.” Or the faithful will risk receiving the sacraments illicitly and their marriage will be totally invalid.
He believed the diaconal ordinations by Ma were an attempt to build his prestige after his election as president of the government-recognized bishops’ conference last year.
“If the people in his diocese do not obey him, how can he lead all Chinese bishops?” he asked.
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