Chinese government ignores Vatican warning on bishop ordination

By David Kerr

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The Vatican is considering its response following the illicit ordination of another bishop without Pope Benedict’s approval.

Father Joseph Yue Fusheng, 48, was ordained as bishop of Harbin city on July 6, despite warnings from Rome that he faced automatic excommunication for doing so.

“This episcopal ordination of Harbin will create confusion and divisions among the Catholic community in China,” the Vatican’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples said in a July 3 note issued ahead of the ordination.

“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,” the congregation said.

In a July 4 response China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs labeled the Vatican’s warning as “extremely outrageous and shocking,” adding that their policy of “self-ordination” would continue.

According to several reports, five Vatican-approved bishops took part in the illicit ordination at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Harbin city, the capital of Heilongjiang province. It was also reported that around 40 priests were present.

Participating clerics were also warned by the Vatican in its July 3 statement that they were “exposing themselves to serious canonical penalties prescribed by the law of the Church.”

China has an estimated eight to twelve million Catholics, with about half of those people worshiping in the government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Founded in 1957, it does not acknowledge the authority of the Pope.

Father Joseph Yue Fusheng is the vice-chairman of the puppet organization.

In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI wrote an open letter to the Catholic Church in China in which he recognized that it was “understandable that governmental authorities are attentive to the choice of those who will carry out the important role of leading and shepherding the local Catholic communities, given the social implications which – in China as in the rest of the world – this function has in the civil sphere.”

But he also stressed that the appointment of bishops is a religious rather than political matter, and that the right of the Church to make such appointments without state interference is “a constitutive element of the full exercise of the right to religious freedom” as is also recognized in international conventions.

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