Episcopal ordination in Kunming "destroys mutual trust between Holy See and Beijing"

Cardinal Zen "profoundly regrets" the illegal ordination of the bishop of Kunming, which took place "through pressure, threats, and it seems, even deceit". Kunming's Catholics feel "sorrow".

Rome (AsiaNews) – The episcopal ordination of Fr Ma Yinglin "has destroyed the atmosphere of mutual trust so necessary for a successful dialogue for a betterment of relations between the Holy See and Beijing." It has also "caused serious damage to the Ecclesial Communion" of the new bishop. Such was the reaction of the bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiu, about the decision to appoint a new bishop of Kunming without the approval of the Holy See. In a public statement, the cardinal said: "We deeply regret that prior to permission from the Holy See, the Church in China (dominated by the Patriotic Association), through pressure, threats and, it seems, also deceit, has ordained Fr Ma Yinglin as bishop of Kunming. This action has caused serious damage to the Ecclesial Communion and an irregular station for Fr Ma, which will not be corrected in a short time although he may hope for approval from the Holy See. This action has destroyed also the atmosphere of mutual trust so necessary for a successful dialogue in view of a betterment of relation between Holy See and Beijing".

Cardinal Zen added: "The exceedingly major portion of the Clergy and the faithful want their bishop to be appointed by the common Father of the Catholic Family. Jesus founded his Church on the Rock of Peter. Those who go against this people's desire will not prevail."

The episcopal ordination of Fr Ma, 41 years, took place on 30 April in the Cathedral of Kunming in Yunan. It was imposed by Anthonio Liu Bainian, the deputy chairman of the Patriotic Association [PA – the official organisation controlling the Church, whose statutes include the goal of creating a national Church detached from the Holy See].

The day before the ceremony, Cardinal Zen sent a fax to the offices of Kunming Diocese, requesting "suspension of the ordination, illegal under Canon law" that stipulates latae sentientiae excommunication for the new bishop and those who ordained him.

Despite this, nine bishops participated in the ceremony, although many others, aware that the function was illegal, decided not to go. The main celebrant was the Bishop of Hankou, Bernardino Dong Guangqing: concelebrants were Anicetus Wang Chongyi, bishop of Guiyang; Fang Xingyao, bishop of Linyi; Joseph Li Mingshu, bishop of Qingdao and Paul Su Yongda, bishop of Zhanjiang. They were joined by the coadjutor bishops of Hanzhong and Jinan, Yu Runchen and Joseph Zhang Xianwang, and by the auxiliary bishops of Tangshang and Wanzhou, Paul He Zeqing and Peter Fang Jianping. The last formed part of a group of bishops ordained illegally on 6 January 2000 in the Cathedral of Beijing.

Around 1,000 people including Catholics, government representatives and guests, attended Mass. After the Holy Scripture readings, Fr Yue Tiande read a document by the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China [a sort of episcopal conference, not recognized by the Vatican]. The document stated that Fr Ma "was elected bishop by all priests, nuns and lay delegates of Kunming diocese during an election held on 21 January 2006… The election took place in accordance with Church tradition and the council's regulations: therefore it is valid and legitimate."

Many believers of the Church of Kunming told AsiaNews they "felt sorrow" about this move by the PA. One of them said: "Many did not want to take part in the ceremony for fear of excommunication; however the parish priests of all the diocese repeated that responsibility for this gesture would fall only on the ordained bishops and the new prelate."

During the ceremony, Fr Ma, said he "felt inadequate in shouldering the task", adding that he wanted to "follow Saint Peter's teaching to be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake". Thus he intends to "lead all priests, nuns, seminarians and lay Catholics in the diocese to obey the national constitution, to maintain the unification of the country and solidarity of the society, and to contribute to the building of an affluent society and the building of a harmonious socialist country".

Fr Ma is one of the three Catholic representatives who are members of the National People's Congress, the Chinese parliament. According to the Code of Canon Law, his political commitment is incompatible with his episcopal appointment.