Tensions Persist Between Beijing And Rome on Bishop Ordinations

The tug of war between the Vatican and Beijing over the appointment of bishops has once again heated up after the ordination on July 7 of a new auxiliary bishop in Shanghai. The Vatican expressed its satisfaction with the licit ordination of Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin in a statement released on July 10. Although the Vatican complained about the presence at the ceremony of a bishop not in communion with Rome, it said this papally approved ordination “is encouraging and is to be welcomed.” Unfortunately Chinese authorities quickly lost their enthusiasm for Bishop Ma. During his ordination ceremony he renounced his role in the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association.

Local church sources who attended Bishop Ma’s ordination said that he was led away shortly after the ceremony by an unidentified group of people and has since been prohibited from assuming the duties of his office. His whereabouts remain unknown. The bishop did not show up for his first Mass at St. Ignatius Cathedral after telling the congregation at his ordination that he would step down from the local and national offices of the Catholic Patriotic Association to devote himself entirely to his ministry.

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Bishop Ma is the first government-approved bishop in recent years to announce publicly that he would give up his duties with the Patriotic Association. On July 11 two government-sanctioned Catholic Church organizations announced an investigation into Bishop Ma’s ordination. A church source in Shanghai said on July 11 that the bishops who participated in the ordination ceremony also have been included in the government investigation. Neither government group is recognized by the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI’s letter to Catholics in China in 2007 stated that the aim of the government’s Patriotic Association in upholding the national independence of the church in China was incompatible with Catholic doctrine.

Questions linger on the whereabouts of Bishop Ma. Some suggest that he has been arrested, others that he has been restricted to the grounds of the Sheshan Seminary in Shanghai. A Shanghai priest said Bishop Ma was having a difficult time. “It is painful but is good for the conscience of the church in China. His witness is an encouragement for our Catholics, so we can only pray for him,” the priest said.

In a related development the Chinese priest Joseph Yue Fusheng has been automatically excommunicated for allowing himself to be illicitly ordained a bishop despite repeated warnings from the Vatican. “The Holy See does not recognize him as bishop of the A postolic Administration of Harbin, and he lacks the authority to govern the priests and the Catholic community in the Province of Heilongjiang,” the Vatican said in the same statement on July 10.

Father Yue was ordained bishop of Harbin on July 6 without a papal mandate, following an acrimonious exchange of notifications between the Vatican and Beijing.

The Vatican said on July 10 that it was still committed to dialogue with Chinese authorities but warned against continued illicit celebrations and episcopal ordinations without papal approval, saying such acts not only harm dialogue but also “cause division and bring suffering to the Catholic communities in China and the universal church.”

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