Chinese bishop to be ordained against Pope's wishes
by Bernardo Cervellera

The Patriotic Association, to defend its power, is jeopardizing signals of détente between Beijing and Rome.  The candidate would want to backtrack, but the P.A. wants to proceed at all costs.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The Chinese Patriotic Association is about to explode a huge diplomatic bomb, that risks jeopardizing initial traces of dialogue between China and the Vatican.

On Sunday, April 30 in Kunming (Yunnan), the Patriotic Association (P.A.) – and in particular its vice-president, layman Anthony Liu Bainian – wants at all costs to ordain a priest as bishop without the Holy See's permission.  Over the last two years, Beijing and the Vatican had arrived at an agreement which left it to Rome to indicate candidates for the episcopacy.  Accordingly, auxiliary bishops of Shanghai, Xian, Wanxian and the ordinary of Suzhou were ordained.  This agreement had put to the side the P.A., which for decades had held the reigns of ordinations, weakening its power over the official Church.  This time however, the Patriotic Association is not standing by and has decided to have Father Ma Yinglin ordained as Bishop of Kunming (capital of Yunnan).

Father Ma, age 40, is currently secretary of the official Church's Council of Bishops (a sort of episcopal conference, not recognized by the Vatican) and holds various offices in the Patriotic Association, the organism that controls the Church, and whose statutes include the goal of creating a national Church detached from the Holy See.  According to AsiaNews sources in Beijing, Father Ma would also be of the opinion to not go ahead with this ordination, but Liu Bainian, for whom he has worked since 1999, is determined to go ahead against the wishes of the Holy See.

The Vatican has already let it be known for some time that it does not support the candidacy of Father Ma, who is too close to the power structure of the AP and has little pastoral experience.  According to AsiaNews sources, it seems that the Vatican has even asked that the ordination be delayed, to leave time for calm discussion and to reach an accord on another person.  But the AP is not yielding and has sent its officials throughout China to gain acceptance for the new candidate and to push bishops, priests and members of the faithful to take part in the celebration.  But already many bishops of the official Church have let it be known that they are against the ordination and will desert the event.

This new ordination is creating many new problems for the Church and the government of China.  The first is the ecclesial position of the candidate who thus finds himself in de facto breach of ecclesial communion (latae sentientiae excommunication, "by the very commission of the offence").  As things currently stand, Chinese Catholics reject a bishop if he is not in communion with the Vatican and do not take part in his functions, preferring to swell the ranks of the underground Church.  Plus, such a challenge by the AP shines a bad light on the government, which thus appears to be driven by mid-level authorities and their anti-Holy See expressions, while top officials – at least over this last year – have been engaging in signs of détente and dialogue with the Vatican.

Something similar happened in 2000.  Just as rumours were spreading of rapprochement between China and the Vatican, the P.A. had planned, for January 6, 2000, the ordination of 12 new bishops.  Seven of them ended up refusing the nomination, having come to learn that the Vatican had not given its approval; the other 5 were isolated and deceived into accepting the ordination.  At the ceremony, which took place in Beijing in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception early in the morning, only a few patriotic prelates took part, including Fu Tieshan, Archbishop of Beijing and Liu Yuanren, Archbishop of Nanking, who are not reconciled with the Vatican.  Priests, laypeople and other bishops who had been invited remained absent.  Even the seminarians of the national seminary of Beijing deserted the event.   In a letter to their rector, they had expressed their disapproval for these ordinations which were not approved by the Vatican.

With this latest showdown, the Patriotic Association is aiming in fact to destroy rapprochement between Beijing and the Holy See.  In case of diplomatic relations, both the government and the Vatican want to do without the P.A.  At this point, the tendency of the Beijing government is to detach itself more and more from the Stalinist and suffocating mentality of the P.A.  Furthermore, the tension that exists in many regions between P.A. officials and members of the faithful, both underground and official, is such that it is jeopardizing the policy of a "harmonious society" and being close to the people that Hu Jintao is pursuing.  From the side of the Vatican and the official and underground Church, the idea is advancing that Catholics could accept having to register communities and bishops with the Religious Affairs Bureau, without however adhering to the Patriotic Association, which is working for a national Church independent of Rome.