Print Version    Email to Friend
Illicit bishops in unofficial Church

HONG KONG (SE): It has long been known that the Vatican has had various problems with some sectors of the unofficial Church communities in China.

The driving forces behind Pope Benedict XVI’s removal of a special permission to ordain bishops without reference to the Vatican in his Letter to Chinese Catholics of 2007 was that with the changing times there was no longer a pastoral need, as well as to promote unity with the official communities.

However, recently a different sort of problem with clandestine ordinations of bishops was revealed with Father Paul Dong Guanhua saying he had been ordained a bishop without either Vatican or government permission in Zhengding.

First reported by the Vatican Insider on October 10 and published in the Sunday Examiner on October 16, it was not known when the ordination had taken place.

However, UCAN has since discovered that the illicit ordination may have happened as long as 11 years ago, but was not revealed until May 22 this year when Father Dong announced at a Mass that the ordination had taken place to avoid further fissure in the Church.

In a report published on October 19, the Asian Church news agency says that on September 11 he made a public demonstration of his ordination by wearing his mitre and carrying his crosier, the bishop’s insignia of office, at Mass.

“Father Dong even posted his phone number on a popular Catholic website and his blog calling for anyone wanting to become a bishop to contact him,” it reports.

“I was ordained by an elderly bishop in 2005, but I won’t tell you who,” UCAN quoted the self-selected, self-ordained bishop as saying.

The Vatican Insider had previously reported that the ordaining bishop was Bishop Casimirus Wang Milu, formerly from the unofficial community in Tianshui, but now retired. It also noted that the bishop is somewhat unstable and that Father Dong had played on him in order to entice him to do the ordination.

It is not known if any other bishop was involved. But the Vatican Insider also admitted that not all details of the ordination were known.

However, rumours abound around the unofficial Church communities that the number of self-styled illicitly ordained bishops is growing out of all proportions.

UCAN reported that Father Dong denied that he had secretly ordained Father Wang Chengli, the apostolic administrator of Heze in Shandong, as a bishop, or five other self-styled bishops with neither Vatican nor government approval that are said to be on the loose around China.

Nevertheless, he did admit that he had ordained a 51-year-old priest as a bishop on September 7 this year, but said that he would not reveal his name because it is dangerous given the high rate of government surveillance on Church affairs.

The shadow bishop said that he was modelling himself on the late Bishop Fan Wueyan (see page 11), from Baoding, in his opposition to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which he says is only controlling the Church on behalf of the Communist Party.

UCAN reports that Father Dong also claims that his ordination as a bishop is valid, because it took place before Pope Benedict removed the special permission for Churches under persecution to ordain bishops in China without first receiving a mandate from the Vatican.

While Pope Benedict did leave the door open for particular dioceses to apply for an exemption in particular circumstances, it is not known if any have been applied for or been granted.

Father Dong is also highly critical of the Vatican-recognised bishop in Zhending, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, who said in a statement on September 13 that Father Dong has incurred automatic excommunication for accepting ordination as a bishop without permission.

Bishop Jia was ordained, by special arrangement without a Vatican mandate, one month after Bishop Wang in 1981, just after some of the long imprisoned bishops had been released.

UCAN was also told that Father Dong had been suspended by Bishop Jia some years ago, but he has several hundred followers and continues his ministry in defiance of the bishop.

However, ripples from pebbles travel a long way across the water and Catholic social media in China have been buzzing with accusations and counter accusations between the unofficial communities and those associated with the Patriotic Association.

UCAN reports that some people from the official communities have mocked the self-proclaimed loyalty of the unofficial communities and accused them of doing harm to the communion of the one Church in China.

In their turn, while the unofficial communities see the maverick ordinations as outside the pail, they also view the appointment of bishops in the official Church as a violation of Church law and think it is time for the Vatican to review its policy on China altogether.

“The Vatican does not appoint bishops, but only apostolic administrators for the underground community. It has adopted double standards or ignored irregular issues that could have been settled if it followed canon law,” Father Joseph, from Hebei, noted.

The revelation about an unwanted plague of bishops that may be on the loose comes at an awkward time, as it is anticipated that the negotiating teams from Beijing and the Vatican are scheduled to reconvene around this time.

While the Vatican Insider expressed the opinion that the ordination of one illicit bishop in the unofficial Church would not affect the negotiations, the mudslinging between Catholics on social media makes the situation difficult.

While Bishop Jia has spoken out strongly, saying, “We have faith in the pope. We are not worried. We know that the pope will not renounce things that are essential and which constitute the very nature of the Church,” Father Dong appears to see this attitude as the problem at hand.

However, UCAN was told that what may be problematic is any possible reunion between the bishops of the official and unofficial Church. The Vatican already has the conundrum of eight illicit bishops in the official community, but if Father Dong and the possible phalanx of bishops with him have to be taken into account, the situation could well become far stickier.

However, a priest identifying himself only as Father Joseph, told UCAN, “In the eyes of Beijing, it is just a number of illegal religious personnel be it 30 or 32. The authorities will continue to detain or arrest us or remove us from the diocese if they think it is necessary.”

More from this section