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Slating illicit bishop for ordinations sparks uproar

DALI (UCAN): The first ordination of three priests from Dali since it was established as a diocese in 1946, sparked an uproar on March 12, when it was announced that the illicitly ordained Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin is scheduled to be the ordaining bishop at the ceremony, which is set for March 26.

Bishop Ma, from Kunming in Yunnan, is the only government-recognised bishop in the province. He is also president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

He was ordained as the bishop of Kunming without the approval of the Holy See on 30 April 2005.

Church observers say that it would be sacrilegious for Bishop Ma to go ahead and participate in the ordination ceremony.

“It would make the new priests irregular according to Canon Law,” one said, although they will still be validly ordained.

“Bishop Ma is also prohibited from doing this according to Canon 1331, as he is still illicit. There is no need for him to violate Church law in order to be loyal only to government officials.”

The observer added, “I would advise him to follow the example of the other illicit Chinese bishops and send the deacons to another Vatican-approved bishop for ordination.”

However, a spokesperson for the Church in Dali said that the Church could only address the matter according to the local situation.

“This is not simply a religious matter, but touches on government law and regulations,” he said, adding that Church officials could not ask another bishop from an outer province to do the ordination when there is already a government-approved bishop in the province.

“Some people or organisations outside China that do not understand our situation tend to give unrealistic comments,” he continued. “An absolute solution to this problem may have to wait until the Holy See legitimises Bishop Ma.”

The three deacons from Dali up for ordination to the priesthood are an ethnic Tibetan, Reverend Liu Zhibin, an ethnic Miao, Reverend Li Jiaoquan, and an ethnic Jingpo, Reverend Pai Zaonan.

“They are the first batch for priesthood to be cultivated by our diocese, so many members of the faithful wish to attend the ceremony,” the spokesperson said.

Dali diocese currently has three priests and three sisters serving a Catholic population of 80,000, mostly belonging to the seven tribal groups that live in remote mountainous areas.

Differences in culture and language, as well as poor transportation infrastructure, make it hard for priests to operate.

“A priest travels nearly 60,000 kilometres a year to visit the people,” he explained.

Three other deacons are also scheduled to be ordained at the same time. They are Reverend Cao Taishan and Reverend Wang Jifeng, from Kunming diocese, and Reverend Huang Xiaojin, from the apostolic prefecture of Zhaotong.

‘Bishop Ma is also prohibited from doing this according to Canon 1331, as he is still illicit. There is no need for him to violate Church law in order to be loyal only to government officials’

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