Hong Kong (AsiaNews) Whether they belong to the official Church or to its underground counterpart, priests in Beijing, Shanghai, Hebei, Shaanxi, Heilongjiang, etc. have heaved a sigh of relief after the Vatican issued a statement that condemns the illegitimate ordinations of bishops in China as "a grave violation of religious liberty" and "a grave wound to the unity of the Church". This comes after the Patriotic Association ordained two bishops, one in Kunming and another in Anhui, respectively on April 30 and May 3, without a pontifical mandate.
In the statement released today by Dr Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See Press Office, "external entities to the Church" are accused of putting strong pressures on bishops and priests so that they would take part in acts that are tantamount to destroying the communion with the Holy See.
"This statement was necessary," a priest in Shaanxi province told AsiaNews. "These ordinations are illegal and a great obstacle to relations between China and the Vatican. But they are above all a factor of division with the Catholic Church. The Church finds itself back to a time, many years ago, when patriotism and loyalty to the Communist Party prevailed over ties to the Pope."
"If the Pope did not speak up, the official Church was in danger of being swallowed up lock, stock and barrel by the Patriotic Association (PA), changing the very nature of the Catholic Church," he said. "The true Church always obeys the Pope." And "if it is true that the PA has another 20 illegal ordinations planned, we can say goodbye to at least 30 years of the Catholic Church in China."
For a Beijing priest involved in pastoral work, the Patriotic Association and its deputy chairman Anthony Liu Bainian are all to blame for these ordinations. "The PA is doing everything to railroad any positive development in China-Vatican relations," he said.
"They know that once diplomatic ties are established in the future, the Church won't depend on a non-Church entity. China will thus be free from an imperial view of state-Church relations," he explained. Then there will be no place for the PA and these ordinations are a rear-guard move to save their jobs."
In Hebei province, another priest confirmed, as the Vatican note pointed out, that there were pressures and threats against would-be bishops, and bishops and priests who took part in the recent ordinations. "The bishop of Kunming now says he is worried about the consequences".
AsiaNews has also learnt that many official bishops, despite the threats, steadfastly refused to take part in ordinations not approved by the Pope.
An underground priest in northern China told AsiaNews that underground Catholics "were expectantly waiting for the Vatican note. These illegal ordinations are a great scandal in the communion of the Church. The bond with the Pope and the duty of obedience to Peter are what we want to experience. It is what makes us give up what is safe and secure; it is what makes us willing to put our lives at risk."
"It is important that the Holy See criticised the ordinations carried out without the Pope's permission," he explained, because "the relationship to the ministry of Peter is fundamental. In order to help us all live the relationship with the Holy See, the latter must appoint two apostolic administrators, two clergymen with legitimate authority for the dioceses of Kunming and Anhui."
"We have the same problem in Beijing where the official bishop, Michael Fu Tieshan, is not reconciled with the Vatican and so there is no other [legitimate] authority. Even in Beijing we need an apostolic administrator."