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A reminder of who is in charge

HONG KONG (SE): The relatively peaceful and unhindered ordination of Bishop Peter Ding Lingbin in Changzhi, Shanxi province, on November 10, led to much hype over the current round of meetings between the Vatican and Beijing in promoting relations between the Church in China and the government.

This was followed up quickly by another ordination on November 30 of Bishop John Baptist Wang Xiaoxun for the diocese of Angkang in Sha’anxi. The big fear surrounding both ceremonies that an illicitly ordained bishop may gatecrash proceedings, proved to be ill-founded.

However at another ordination on the same day of Father Joseph Tang Yuange as the bishop of Chengdu, as well as a subsequent one of Father John Lei Jiapei as the first bishop of Xichang in 17 years on December 2, Bishop Paul Lei Shiyin, the first priest to be ordained a bishop without a papal mandate to be declared by the Vatican as having incurred self-excommunication, became the fly in the ointment.

AsiaNews reported that despite the objections of the people, who hung a banner in front of the church in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, prior to Sunday Mass on November 27 in protest against the expected presence of Bishop Lei at the ordination, he managed to get himself onto the altar with the help of security forces.

Although security removed the banner a few hours after the Sunday Mass had ended, local parishioners did manage to post a photograph of it on social media.

The message on the banner was signed The faithful of the Catholic Church of Ping’an Qiao (Bridge of Peace).

On social media, it carried the caption, “In compliance with canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, we strongly oppose Lei Shiyin, who has been automatically excommunicated, coming to our church to take part in the concelebration of the liturgy of an episcopal ordination.”

However, Bishop Lei Shiyin turned up again on December 2 at the ordination of Father Lei. Although the heavy security kept proceedings peaceful, the presence of the illicitly ordained bishop marred what was otherwise described as a tranquil and orderly occasion.

His appearance in both Xichang and Chengdu was expected. UCAN was told that government officials informed clergy in Chengdu that it was on the order of higher state authorities.

The local government reportedly allocated 700,000 yuan ($840,000) for the ordination in the remote diocese of Xichang. Stricter security measures were in place than in Chengdu to keep watch on the approximately 400 people who attended.

The person at the apex of the disappointment expressed by the local Catholics, Bishop Lei Shiyin, is widely rumoured to have children and the people in Chengdu say they believe that the government ordered him to take part in the ceremony just to make the point to the Vatican that deciding who does what in the Church in China is the prerogative of Beijing.

At both the ordinations in which Bishop Lei took part, the principal ordaining bishop was Bishop John Fang Xinguao, the chairperson of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

Bishop Fang has recognition from both the Vatican and the government, so his presence ensured that the ordinations were both licit and valid in the eyes of the Church, and acceptable in those of the government.

However, Bishop Fang is not a straight up and down the line character.

In June this year, he was quoted by Phoenix Television as saying that the birdcage bishop in Shanghai, Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, needs to sharpen up his ideas about the Patriotic Association and understand that it is the body that makes it possible for him to minister as a bishop.

He added that he should also be more sensitive to Chinese culture and pay more attention to the integration of the Church into the culture.

In praise of the Patriotic Association, he said that it was set up to allow the Church to be part of the local society and give it a chance to develop.

But most controversially, Bishop Fang spoke strongly in support of self-nominated ordination for bishops (without reference to the pope), calling it a must for China and crediting it as being the basis of the recent development in the Church.

Under Canon Law, Bishop Lei Shiyin incurred self-excommunication when he defied the Holy See and accepted ordination as a bishop on 29 June 2011.

However, although he was not the first to be ordained without a papal mandate, he became the first to be declared by the Vatican to have excommunicated himself.

He told UCAN at the time that he can personally obey the Church unconditionally, but he also has to consider the fundamental interests of the local Church.

“I wrote a letter and answered enquiries from Rome a year ago. I did what I needed to do and have waited for a long time,” he said.

He insisted that the local Church cannot give up the opportunity of evangelisation.

“I hope you can understand that we have to consider the Church’s survival and development. We have no way out and cannot sidestep this issue, but must work according to the reality,” he said at the time.

The two priests ordained bishops on November 30 are Father Wang, who becomes the coadjutor of the diocese of Angkang, and Father Tang, who becomes the bishop of Chengdu.

Bishop Wang was born in 1966 and studied at the seminary in Xi’an. He was ordained a priest in 1992 by the late Bishop Anthony Li Duan, going to the cathedral church as administrator in 2005.

He was elected as the coadjutor to the aging Bishop John Ye Ronghua in 2010, who has led the tiny diocese of some 4,500 people since 1987 as administrator and 2000 as bishop. The diocese has nine priests and six sisters.

Bishop Tang was born in 1963 and ordained in 1991. He had worked in Chengdu and Hainan before being elected as a candidate for bishop in 2014.

However, he was not approved by the Vatican until October of the following year.

Chengdu has a Catholic population of 100,000, with 20 priests and nine sisters fulfilling various roles in the diocese.

Bishop Lei Jiapei has been the administrator in Xichang since the death of Bishop Xie Chaogang in 1999. He was active in organising relief outreach to victims of the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008.

He was born in June 1970, ordained a priest in 1995 and elected as a bishop candidate in 2010. Local people say that he is not a popular figure within the Catholic community.

There are rumours of sexual misconduct and he provoked widespread disgust when he appeared in a video wearing his vestments while singing Communist songs on stage at a function organised by the local government.

His diocese has a Catholic population of some 35,000 and is served by 11 priests and 11 sisters.

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