Bishops Or Mandarins? The Dilemma of the Chinese Church
Illegitimate episcopal ordination thwarted in extremis. Thanks to the resistance of the faithful and to vigorous protests from Rome. An interview with the new Vatican strategist on China, Archbishop Hon.
ROME, June 10, 2011 – The Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics, the organism with which the Beijing authorities assert the "autonomy" of the Chinese Church from the pope, has been threatening for some time to create a dozen new bishops of its own, ordained without the approval of Rome.
On November 20, 2010, the threat was realized with the illegitimate ordination in Chengde of a new bishop, Joseph Guo Jincai.
And another illicit ordination was scheduled for yesterday, Thursday, June 9, in the diocese of Hankow.
In extremis, however, this ordination was postponed. With no explanation of why.
But everything points to the influence of resistance from the faithful and from the candidate himself, the priest Shen Guoan.
And perhaps there was even more influence from the energy with which from Rome, on June 3, the new secretary of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, Savio Hon Taifai.
The frankness with which Archbishop Hon expressed his criticisms of the ecclesiastical policy of Beijing and of the part of the Chinese Church that submits to it confirms that a stance of confrontation, instead of accommodation, prevails in Rome.
The following are the most significant passages of the interview with Hon, now considered the main strategist of Vatican policy on China.
- On the threatened illegitimate episcopal ordination of Hankow
HON: From what I understand, the faithful of Hankow have reacted, and with the code of canon law in hand have asked the government and the Patriotic Association not to do this, and to renounce this ordination.
It seems that the candidate himself, Father Shen Guoan, does not want to give in. As brother to brother, I want to tell him: I have faith in you, that you will do the right thing. And the only right thing is to refuse.
- On the consequences of illegitimate ordinations
HON: Long practice of the autonomous method of electing and ordaining bishops without the mandate of the pope sooner or later destroys the Church, and sooner or later even the faithful will no longer go to those bishops separated from the Holy See.
- On why some bishops and priests submit
HON: Because those who do not are punished. They lose state subsidies for the diocese; they encounter obstacles to their everyday pastoral work; they are penalized in their careers (for example, they are not promoted to the government advisory assembly); they do not receive permission to go abroad or travel inside of China; they are forced to undergo reeducation courses. One severe punishment is also their forced isolation from other bishops, from the priests, from the faithful.
An example: Li Lianghui, bishop of Cangzhou, who refused to participate in the Assembly of Catholic representatives last December, is now undergoing reeducation sessions. But precisely this example demonstrates that it is possible to refuse to submit.
- More on those who submit, and those who instead resist
HON: There are opportunists who accept the compromise and provide other reasons for it: they say that they are doing it for the good of the Church, for the urgency of evangelization, in order to receive aid from the state . . . But these benefits are false: when the Church is separated from the rock, from Peter, the Church automatically becomes weak. When a bishop submits, he in fact performs a public action that creates a scandal and is a counter-witness to the faithful, and weakens the heroic story of so many bishops who have resisted.
Naturally, the Chinese authorities know how to select their candidates from among those who are most fragile and disposed to compromise. But we know that today, various candidates for the episcopate resist and do not want to be ordained without all the canonical guarantees and the mandate of the pope. There are candidates who have dug in their heels and have not accepted being ordained by excommunicated bishops, or until the papal mandate has arrived. In the face of their firm resistance, the government has not been able to do anything.
- On a way out for the weakest
HON: In the current situation in China, it is worthwhile to advise those bishops and priests who feel weak or unable to resist the pressure to ask to be exonerated from public service and have the courage to suspend their ministry.
- On the sacraments administered by the illegitimate bishops
HON: The pope's letter of 2007 to the Chinese Catholics has until now permitted, for the good of the faithful and in exceptional circumstances, the reception of the sacraments even from illegitimate bishops. But if this situation were to become a constant, I fear that this guideline would need to be reviewed and the explanation given to the faithful, Chinese and also foreign, that it is not possible to receive the sacraments from them. If, in fact, no distinction were to be made, the faithful would no longer know who is faithful to the pope and who is not, and there would be the risk of confusing the faith of the simple.
- On the steps to be taken with illegitimate bishops
HON: After the illegitimate ordination in Chengde, the Holy See issued a statement of condemnation. But there was one thing it did not say: that being a bishop and the pastoral ministry are two distinct things. One becomes a bishop through sacramental ordination, but becomes pastor of a part of the people of God through the pope's mandate. This means that an illegitimate bishop has indeed procured ordination and is therefore a bishop, but he does not have any right to govern the faithful because he does not have the papal mandate. In the case of Chengde, the ordination is valid even if it is illicit, but the newly ordained does not have any right of guidance over his flock. This means that the faithful of Chengde are not obliged to obey him, and he himself does not have the power to ordain priests.
I think that in order to get out of this ambiguous situation, it is important to ask the bishops who have performed actions contrary to the mandate of the pope – ordinations, assemblies, etcetera – to perform public acts of penance.
- On the support given by American and European theologians to the "autonomy" of the Chinese Church
HON: Unfortunately, there is a theology in America and Europe that is also penetrating into the Chinese Church. This theology claims precisely autonomy in the selection of bishops, and independence from the Holy See. And so there are persons in America and Europe who are pushing the Chinese bishops to behave this way. "If you succeed," they say, "we will follow you."
Until a short time ago, these problems of independence and autonomy were only at the level of governance. Now they are also at the theological level.
- On how to free the bishops in prison
HON: In all the encounters with representatives of the Chinese government, we constantly insist on the liberation of these brothers of ours. But the government doesn't pay any attention to us. These bishops are elderly, their liberation should also be a humanitarian act. But unfortunately, we do not receive any response. Maybe public appeals should be made, instead of asking in private.
The complete text of Archbishop Hon's interview with "Asia News," published on May 3, 2011:
> Chinese bishops should have no fear and say no to Beijing’s demands, says Mgr Savio Hon
All the articles from www.chiesa on this topic:
> Focus on CHINA
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.