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Illicit bishop rumour mill grinds more rumours

HONG KONG (SE): Reports that Father Paul Dong Guanhua had announced that he had been clandestinely ordained a bishop in the unofficial Church community, without a mandate from the Vatican, have sparked a flow of grievances aired on social media about what may happen at the next round of Vatican-Beijing negotiations where rumour has it an agreement will be made on the appointment of and situation of bishops in China.

Although Father Dong first announced his episcopal status back in May, the news did not become widespread until October, but according to AsiaNews, a lack of comment from the Vatican has left the unofficial communities feeling that they are being left out in the cold.

However, the Vatican press officer, Greg Burke, said on November 7 that it has been difficult to respond because whether there really was an ordination or not cannot be verified, as to date there is only Father Dong’s say so.

“In recent weeks, there has been a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without papal mandate of priests of the unofficial community of the Catholic Church in continental China,” Burke said.

He then clarified, “The Holy See has not authorised any ordination, nor has it been officially informed of such events. Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.”

He added that the hope is that the reports are baseless, but nothing can be properly clarified until reliable information about the cases can be obtained.

But he then stressed, “However, it is reiterated that it is not licit to proceed with any episcopal ordination without the necessary papal mandate, even by appealing to particular personal beliefs.”

Father Dong claims that he was ordained secretly by Bishop Casimirus Wang Milu, but he is known to be unstable of mind and not able to help clarify the situation.

The claim is further complicated, as some reports say the ordination may have happened as long as 11 years ago.

Father Dong has recently been advertising his services to ordain other priests who, like himself, are frustrated with what he calls the neglect of the Vatican and he says that he has had at least one taker.

The case is even further complicated, as Father Dong’s bishop, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, says that he had been suspended from the priesthood some time ago, but in all events, if he really was secretly ordained as a bishop without the Vatican nod, he would have incurred automatic excommunication, so no longer has any standing in the Church.

Nevertheless, he has a strong private following.

But the rumour mill has been working overtime and AsiaNews reports that some Catholic people suspect that the ordinations may have been arranged by the government to heighten tensions between the official and unofficial communities.

However, priests in the unofficial community say that frustration is certainly there. AsiaNews reports that they point to the fact that for the past 20 years their bishops have not been replaced, which they interpret as a kind of a death sentence.

They add that what grinds is that the official community is allowed to ordain priests who belong to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, despite the fact that Pope Benedict XVI said that it runs against Catholic doctrine (some say doctrine should be translated as faith).

But what truly is upsetting is the word imminent in the rumoured agreement between the Holy See and Beijing, although the Vatican secretary of state, who heads the Vatican team, has never used that word.

They also point to the photographing of Bishop Joseph Xu Honggen on October 7 (Sunday Examiner, October 23) and, while not denying that he is a good bishop, they say that it is well known that such a photo-op cannot happen without the permission of the Patriotic Association.

One priest related that it has even proved to be impossible to get a papal blessing for a bishop who has undergone persecution. “Now they won’t even give a sign of support and encouragement to those who need it most,” AsiaNews reported one priest as saying.

Adding insult to injury from the point of view of the frustrated unofficial community, no Chinese voice is allowed in the top level negotiations and even Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-Fai, the secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, appears to have been moved sideways as a trouble-shooter in Guam.

Many priests say they would be willing to register with the government, but not the Patriotic Association, as they claim this just makes them puppets of the government.

However, what the priests say is necessary is support in strengthening communion, friendship, cooperation and especially the vital area of human and spiritual formation.

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