Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The Vatican has come down hard against an illicit Episcopal ordination to be held Nov. 20 and against constraints placed on some bishops in communion with the Pope to attend the ceremony.
A statement released today by the Vatican Press Office, states that "The Holy See is disturbed by reports from Mainland China alleging that a number of bishops in communion with the Pope are being forced by government officials to attend an illicit Episcopal ordination in Chengde, northeastern Hebei, said to be scheduled around November 20".
Priests in Hebei province say they have had no contact with at least two bishops from the area, Msgr. Peter Feng Xinmao Hengshui (Jingxian) and Msgr. Joseph Li Liangui of Cangzhou (Xianxian), for several days. The priests are confident that this means that the government has detained them to force them to participate in an Episcopal ordination without the approval of the Holy See. AsiaNews had already received information about this ordination a few months ago.
The Vatican press release states that " If these reports are true, then the Holy See would consider such actions as grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience" and adds that such an such an ordination is “illicit and damaging to the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See"
The candidate for the illicit ordination is one Fr. Joseph Guo Jincai (see photo), ordained in '92 and always pampered by the regime. He is set to become bishop of Chegde (Hebei). Fr. Guo was a professor at the national seminary in Beijing and deputy secretary general of the Patriotic Association, as well as Catholic representative of the National Assembly, the "parliament" in Beijing.
The Vatican press release confirms that according to the Holy See, "Fr Joseph Guo Jincai has not received the approval of the Holy Father to be ordained as a bishop of the Catholic Church".
The statement notes that "the Holy See, keen to develop positive relations with China, has contacted the Chinese authorities on this whole matter and has made its own position clear".
Despite a certain deference, the statement is very clear. According to testimonies published by UCAN news agency, Hengshui priests themselves asked the Holy See to intervene by condemning the illicit ordination and (forced) participation of the bishops. In addition, there are a number of bishops of the region, who have been subjected to various threats to encourage them to participate.
For nearly four years the government and the Patriotic Association had not imposed more illicit ordinations. In 2006, a series of three ordinations without the permission of the Holy See provoked a strong reaction from the Vatican. Since then there have been many ordinations of bishops - 10 this year alone - but where the candidate was nominated by the Holy See, welcomed by the diocesan bodies and accepted and recognized by the government.
It is likely that the illicit Episcopal ordination is a threat towards the Holy See, which in March issued a statement asking bishops to avoid "making gestures (such as, for example, the celebration of sacraments, ordinations of bishops, attending meetings) that contradict communion with the Pope".
The Patriotic Association and the government are preparing for the National Assembly of Chinese Catholic Representatives, a body whose objects are defined by the pope as "incompatible" with the Catholic Church. In order for it to be a success, all bishops must participate, but the Holy See is opposed (see " Assembly of Chinese Catholics "by the end of the year"). Thus the threat is : either you participate or we will fill China with patriotic bishops independent of the pope. In China there are about 20 dioceses without bishops or with very old pastors, men who should already be retired.