An episcopal ordination in China inflicted a “painful wound” on the Catholic Church, and government pressure on other bishops to participate in the ceremony was a “grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience,” the Vatican said on Nov. 24. Under close surveillance from local government officials on Nov. 20, the Rev. Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained bishop of Chengde—the first bishop ordained in China without papal approval in four years.
Eight bishops in communion with Pope Benedict XVI laid their hands on Father Guo, whose ordination was illicit in the eyes of the church. Some of the ordaining bishops had been detained by government officials in the days before the ordination in an effort to force them to participate.
The Vatican said Pope Benedict “received the news with deep regret.” Because the new bishop did not have the mandate or blessing of the pope, the ordination “constitutes a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline,” the statement said. The ordination was a violation of church law, and Bishop Guo “finds himself in a most serious canonical condition,” facing “severe sanctions,” including automatic excommunication, it said.
“This ordination not only does not contribute to the good of the Catholics of Chengde, but places them in a very delicate and difficult condition, also from the canonical point of view, and humiliates them, because the Chinese civil authorities wish to impose on them a pastor who is not in full communion either with the Holy Father or with the other bishops throughout the world,” the Vatican statement said.
The bishops participating in the ordination face canonical penalties unless it can be shown that they were forced by government security forces to attend the liturgy. John Liu Jinghe, the retired bishop of Tangshan, refused to attend the ordination. More than 100 Catholics and dozens of government officials attended the ordination Mass at the church in the rural town of Pingquan. The village was surrounded by about 100 uniformed and plainclothes police. Cameras were banned in the church, and mobile phone signals were blocked in the area.
Bishop Guo became the first bishop illegitimately ordained since Pope Benedict issued his letter to Chinese Catholics in 2007. The papal letter strongly criticized the limits placed by the Chinese government on the church’s activities; but on several key issues, including the appointment of bishops, it invited civil authorities to a new and serious dialogue.
In recent years, because of government requirements, the priests, nuns and laypeople of Chinese dioceses have elected their new bishops. Most of those elected have applied to the Holy See for approval. If such approval was given, it often was announced at the episcopal ordination.
Federico Lombardi, S.J., the Vatican spokes-man, said the ordination would damage “the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People’s Republic of China and the Holy See.”
Hong Kong’s Car-dinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun condemned “the kidnapping [of bishops], the cutting of all communications, the huge show of police force as if dealing with dangerous criminals. Are we not living well into the 21st century?” he asked.