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Exploiting a fine line

HONG KONG (UCAN): The Church in China and, it has been reported, the Vatican as well are perturbed at the appearance of Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin, who has been declared by the Holy See to have incurred self-inflicted excommunication, at two ordinations of bishops, one on November 30 and the other December 2.

Bishop Lei concelebrated at the ordination Mass of Father Joseph Tang Yuange in Chengdu and Father John Lei Jiapei in Xichang.

Bishop Lei was publicly declared by the Holy See to have incurred excommunication when he defied the Vatican and accepted episcopal ordination on 29 June 2011.

To widespread dismay, he gatecrashed the two ceremonies in Chengdu and Xichang.

His presence at the two ordinations has come at a sensitive time, as regular talks are being held between Beijing and the Vatican, where appointments and ordinations of bishops are rumoured to be the dominant topic.

The rumoured deal involves an acceptance by Beijing of some 20 candidates that the Vatican has appointed in recent years and 30 bishops from the unofficial communities, who are not recognised by Beijing.

It is said the deal is that in exchange the Holy See will pardon or do something to regularise the status of the eight bishops that do not have a papal mandate, but have been put forward by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and ordained illicitly.

“The Holy See is certainly unhappy to see (Bishop) Lei in the ordination, but would not likely make any comments as it is not the first time,” a leak from the Vatican maintains.

However, there is certainly concern being expressed across China.

“The atheist Communist regime knows the Church rules well,” a priest-observer in China, who asked not to be named, pointed out.

“Sending Bishop John Fang Xinguao, the chairperson of the Patriotic Association whose position is senior to that of Lei, who is a vice chairperson and the most senior Church official in the province, has avoided making the sacrament illicit,” he said.

It seems that the government is exploiting a fine line by bucking the system without making a complete farce of it.

“I expect that the authorities are going to permit Lei and another excommunicated bishop who has not been pardoned by the Holy See, to continue to play a role in other coming episcopal ordinations,” he continued.

“But if even such a small issue could not be settled, what is the use of the negotiations?” the priest queried.

Bishop Tang in Angkang and the new coadjutor in Chengdu, Bishop John Baptist Wang Xiaoxun, both have the approval of the Vatican and the Chinese government.

Bishop Wang’s ordination was less controversial and smaller in scale. “The church is so small that even the parents of the new bishop could not attend,” one person said.

All the other bishops involved are from the same province and approved by the Vatican and the government.

Father Anthony, a priest who has worked in both Sha’anxi and Sichuan, said a bishop that has been judged to be excommunicated could only appear at an ordination in southern China.

“The tradition of faith in northern China is much stronger,” Father Anthony commented. “The Catholics would not allow an excommunicated bishop to get onto the altar.”

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