Posted November 27, 2010 by The Underground Staff in Commentary and News

China’s newest bishop faces possible excommunication

A newly-ordained bishop in China may be excommunicated because he was proclaimed without papal approval by China’s state-run Catholic Church.

According to BBC News, Pope Benedict XVI learned of the ordination of Bishop Joseph Guo Jincai “with deep regret,” and called it a “grave violation” of the laws of the church.

The Vatican said the ordination “offends the Holy Father, the Church in China and the universal Church, and further complicates the present pastoral difficulties.” Guo was ordained at Chengde’s Pingquan Church, CNN reported.

The Vatican also decried “grave violations of freedom of religion and conscience,” noting that Vatican-approved bishops were forced to participate in the ceremony, BBC News said.

Priests from several dioceses said they had no communication with their bishops since early last week, when they were picked up by government officials, according to The Wall street Journal. Guo was ordained in the presence of high security, BBC News said.

The Vatican issued several warnings this year that Guo, who is the deputy leader of the China’s Catholic Patriotic Authority, (which does not recognize the pope), should not be made a bishop.

There are some 10 million Catholics in China, half of whom follow the pope. Clergy loyal to the pope commonly undergo persecution and are frequently detained, according to AFP.

China’s Catholics have been steadily increasing in number, causing the Communist Party to more strongly assert their control, with Guo’s ordination as their latest move. He is the first unsanctioned ordained bishop in China since 2006, WSJ said.

The furor brings to a halt a recent softening of Vatican-Beijing relations. Although the Vatican excommunicated two bishops who were ordained in 2006 without papal authority, it has since either accepted Beijing’s choices of new bishops, or offered apostolic mandates to those without papal approval. To date, 90 percent of CPA bishops reconciled with the Vatican, WSJ reported.

The WSJ said that out of 97 state-approved dioceses in China, only 57 have a bishop, and 30 of these bishops are over 80 years old. The shortage of church leaders has led many to worship in “underground churches” that are loyal to the Vatican.

Vatican statement

In a strongly-worded statement, the Vatican decried the ordination and the forced attendance of bishops loyal to the pope adding, “Such constraints, carried out by Chinese government and security authorities, constitute a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience,” BBC News reported.

The Vatican said Guo “finds himself in a most serious canonical condition before the Church in China and the universal Church, exposing himself also to the severe sanctions envisaged… [by] the Code of Canon Law,” according to BBC News.

China’s response

Hong Lei, spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said any interference by the Vatican would signify “restriction of freedom and non-tolerance,” according to CNN.

Liu Bainian, vice chair of the CPA said he didn’t believe Guo would be excommunicated, adding, “There are so many followers in China. I believe the pope loves China. I believe just a handful of people in the Vatican are hindering the improvement of relations,” the WSJ reported.

However, Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was in Rome recently when Benedict elevated 24 new members to the College of Cardinals, said that Guo’s ordination was practically an act of war by China against the Catholic Church, BBC News reported.