Illicit Chinese ordination could bring excommunication, Vatican warns

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Pope Benedict XVI.

Excommunications could result if another Chinese cleric is ordained a bishop without approval from Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican warned on July 3.

The planned ordination of Father Joseph Yue Fusheng, as a bishop for the Apostolic Administration of Harbin, lacks papal approval and “is directly opposed to the Office, granted to Peter by the Lord himself and his successors,” the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a notification.

Originally scheduled for the June 29 Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Fr. Yue Fusheng's ordination was delayed but not canceled. China's State Bureau of Religious Affairs has defended the plan, criticizing the threat of what it deems “so-called 'excommunication.'”

Tuesday's notice from the Vatican congregation cited Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, which states that both the giver and the recipient of an unauthorized ordination “incur a latae sententiae (automatic) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.”

If Fr. Yue Fusheng is willingly ordained without the Pope's approval, “the Holy See will not recognize him as the Bishop of Harbin,” and he “will be subjected to the effects of the penalty incurred for violation of the norm of canon 1382.”

His possible consecrators are likewise “exposing themselves to serious canonical penalties prescribed by the law of the Church,” the congregation said, citing the same rule.

The Vatican department reminded Chinese authorities that the Pope exercises his “supreme spiritual authority” in the approval of bishops. While it is “understandable” for governing authorities to have concern for Church affairs, the choice of Church leaders is “a religious matter, not political.”

Chinese officials were also told that Harbin's Catholics do not want the illicit ordination, nor the discord and confusion that would accompany it.

“The survival and development of the Church can only be done in union with the Roman Pontiff,” the warning read. “If one wants the Church in China to be Catholic, one must not proceed (with) episcopal ordinations that do not have the prior approval of the Holy Father.”

A response from the Chinese State Bureau of Religious Affairs confirmed plans to continue with the state-supported policy of choosing and ordaining bishops without papal approval. It urged the Vatican “to rescind the so-called ‘excommunication’ threat and return to the correct position of dialogue.”

The Vatican, however, maintains that Fr. Yue Fusheng's illicit ordination would itself “contradict those signs of dialogue advocated by the Chinese Party and the Holy See.”

Relations between the parties have worsened since November 2010, when a series of state-approved illicit ordinations began.

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