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Government interference in ordinations unwarranted

In his message for the World Day of Peace 2011, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that “peace is the work of conscience, open to the truth and love” and religious freedom is the road to peace.

The ordinations of bishops in China have for over half a century been victim to serious government interference, which shows that the window of religious freedom for the Church is closing.

An episcopal ordination is primarily a religious matter rather than an economic or political issue and such intervention by the Chinese government in the internal affairs of a religious body is unwarranted.

A peep at Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong, as well as Japan, South Korea, Mongolia, The Philippines and Thailand, shows that the ordination of a bishop is a celebration in which the whole community takes part. However, in China, churches are heavily guarded; religious personnel are under threat; the freedom of the bishop candidate and participating clergy is restricted and their movements are monitored.

Jesus Christ gave St. Peter “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The key is a symbol of the authority to manage the Church. The pope, the successor of St. Peter, gives approval to all bishops, as it involves the authority of Church magisterium and communion of all the faithful.

At episcopal ordinations the laying on of hands is a unique rite of authorisation derived from Christ and passed on from the apostles. Today, in the official Church community in China, both legitimate and illegitimate bishops mingle, thus obscuring what is valid and invalid in the Church.

Since the pope’s letter to the Church in China of 2007, episcopal ordinations in Xiamen, Yibin, Nanchong, Hunan and Shanghai have all been arranged with one illegitimate bishop attending and in some cases even laying on hands.

The illicit ordinations in Chengde, Shantou, Leshan and Harbin purposely involved illegitimate bishops on the ordination team, again obscuring what is legitimate and illegitimate.

This makes the action of Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, an approved bishop in Shanghai, in preventing an illegitimate bishop from laying hands on him at his ordination extremely special.

Bishop Ma also declared it was inconvenient for him to hold a position in the government Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, challenging government interference in Church matters. 

Those who have taken part in illicit ordinations need to reflect on how hard they tried to resist, as many people have suffered because of their actions. They have created rifts and damaged the communion and unity among Catholics. The unity of the priests and the faithful can protect bishops from being forced to do things against their will, as happened in June 2011.

The Holy See has announced that the illegitimate bishops are banned from administering the sacraments and managing their dioceses; but this also leaves local people in difficult situations, as they have to live with these irregular situations.

The letter of appointment by the pope has to be read at an ordination of a bishop, but unfortunately, in the mainland this is often not done and one from the bishops’ conference takes its place. People say, “We can’t do anything. This is mainland China.”

As China progresses, it should become more tolerant toward religion, human rights and freedom of expression. The greater the freedom given to religion the faster will be the progress. SE