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Vatican’s explanation a goodwill gesture

Latest declaration from Council on illicit ordinations points to issues beyond China

St. Peter’s Square and Basilica in Rome St. Peter’s Square and Basilica in Rome
  • ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
  • China
  • June 14, 2011
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Church observers believe that the latest declaration from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts on illicit ordinations points to cases other than those experienced in China.

The declaration on the correct application of canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law reaffirms the canonical penalty of excommunication for unapproved episcopal ordinations.

The six-point document was published by the L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official Italian daily on June 11.

However, neither the Italian nor English text has been released on the Holy See’s official website and its press office’s Vatican Information Service till today [June 14]. The Vatican Radio published a Chinese summary by its director Father Federico Lombardi on June 11.

The official full text in Chinese is published on CathNews China, the Chinese language service of ucanews.com, today.

The document explains the meaning of latae sententiae excommunication, how and when it is applied, according to a canon lawyer.

Its aim is not to focus just on punishment but “to explain how serious violation of Church disciplines can be a disaster for the Church, the priests and the faithful in the case of episcopal ordination without papal approval,” he said.

It is “medicinal,” which means the perpetrator can be “recovered from sickness, that is, to get reconciled with the Church.” So it is meant to help those bishops who are illegitimately ordained around the world, including China, and to clarify doubts of the faithful, he added.

Anthony Lam Sui-ki, senior researcher of Hong Kong diocese’s Holy Spirit Study Centre, believes the new document is not aimed at the China Church but is a goodwill reminder to Catholic clergy worldwide not to violate the canon.

It will be an encouragement to the majority of Chinese faithful who are fervent to maintain communion with the Successor of Peter. “Even one illicit ordination is too many and we don’t want it to happen again,” Lam stressed.

The declaration pointed out the grave consequence of an episcopal ordination without papal mandate to the Church community even if the bishops involved are exempted from punishment eventually. “This is an important clarification that solves the problem of some candidates attempting to take a snap course by getting ordained first and asking for papal recognition later.”

It also clarified the scope of latae sententiae excommunication to include the co-consecrators, as people traditionally think only the main consecrator and the one being ordained are subjected to the punishment.

The document cited what kind of bad example the excommunicated person should avoid. Now the faithful can distinct between right and wrong so that the clergy can no longer “fish in troubled waters,” Lam noted.

Hong Kong-based Church-in-China observer Kwun Ping-hung said the document can be obviously interpreted as a decision targeting continuous rumors that illicit bishop ordinations would take place in mainland China.

Given that the text does not deliberately mention the China Church and the way and process of its publication, it can also be seen as the needs of the Vatican to strengthen its implementation of the canon and maintain its hope to continue dialogue to resolve differences with China as when both parties cannot reach a consensus on the issue of bishop appointments.

“In this sense, the main purpose of this declaration is to give a strong warning to Chinese clergy and faithful to urge them to voluntarily boycott bishop ordinations without papal approval,” Kwun said.

But since the authority of appointing bishops touches the uncompromising bottom line of both China and the Vatican, he believes it is difficult to anticipate if publishing the declaration or even implementing canon 1382 could help the Vatican to achieve its purpose.

Related reports
Vatican in new warning on illicit episcopal ordinations
China postpones illicit bishop ordination
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