"A slap in the face against the Vatican": new episcopal ordination without pope's approval

To take place tomorrow in Anhui.  The Patriotic Association is preparing many other ordinations of bishops to bring about a crisis in dialogue between Beijing and the Holy See.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Dialogue between China and the Vatican suffers a new blow: tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. in Wuhu, in the Anhui province of central China, a new bishop will be ordained without Holy See permission.  For various Chinese Catholics this is "a slap in the face against the Vatican."  Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong accuses China of having "destroyed trust" and asks for a halt to dialogue between China and the Holy See.

The candidate for the new illegal ordination is Fr Liu Xinhong, a diocesan administrator, ordained to the priesthood in 1990 after having studied theology at Shanghai's official seminary.  He is known by local Catholics as being "very close to the government."  In February, the Vatican had denied approval for his episcopal ordination.  According to local sources, Fr Liu had accepted the Vatican's decision; instead, now, he is agreeing to go through with the ceremony.  This change of heart arrives just two days after another illegal ordination, carried out against the Vatican's wishes, which took place in Kunming April 30.  AsiaNews source in Anhui say that Catholics do not know whether the Vatican has approved or not the ordination, but that the Patriotic Association is giving it much publicity and is pressuring people to take part in the ceremony.  The ordaining bishop prelate will be Monsignor Wu Shizhen, Archbishop of the Nanchang diocese (Jiangxi).  While priests, nuns and laypeople of the official Church are preparing the ceremony in the Saint Joseph Cathedral of Wuhu, members of the underground Church are spreading the news that the ordination is illicit, not having been mandated by the Holy See.

Over the last two years, China and the Holy See had arrived at a working agreement, whereby the Vatican had the last word on ordinations.  Furthermore, within the context of initial signs of a thaw between Rome and Beijing, the Vatican had undertaken to not ordain underground bishops, in exchange for influence on official Church ordinations.

This new ordination is destroying this minimal basis for cooperation.  It has been defined by Chinese Catholics as "a slap in the face against the Vatican."  Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong defined it "a very serious matter" and stated that "the Vatican should suspend all negotiations with China," because Beijing "has destroyed trustÂ…First they engage in dialogue, and then they deal a fait accompli."

According to Fr Gianni Criveller, P.I.M.E., member of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, the government is not yet convinced of the importance of relations with the Holy See and is taking a wait-and-see attitude.  In his opinion, the responsibility for these ordinations is to be attributed to the Patriotic Association and in the particular its vice-president Anthony Liu Bainian.

Many Chinese Catholics, both underground and official, hope that the Vatican makes itself clearly heard with a statement addressing these matters.

According to AsiaNews, Liu Bainian is preparing the ordination of another 20 bishops without Holy See approval, in order to destroy all the reconciliation work that has been carried out to date between the Chinese Church and the pope.