Wednesday, October 12, 2016

China: “Clandestine” bishop ordained without Pope’s consent

Image result for china vatican relationsThe name of the Chinese priest who was ordained bishop of the diocese of Zhengding in Hebdei province in September, is Dong Guan Hua. He was ordained by a mentally unstable elderly bishop, without the consent of the Pope and the Holy See. 

The ordination was his own premeditated choice. He was not forced into it by government bodies overseeing the Church: Fr. Dong belongs to what is known as the “clandestine” Church, a section of the Catholic Church that rejects the procedures imposed by the communist government’s religious policies. He was already excommunicated for his actions in the past, by the legitimate Bishop of Zhengding, also a “clandestine” prelate. The Vatican dicasteries could issue a declaration regarding Don Guan Hua’s case.

The diocese of Zhengding, which the new Bishop Dong is intent on leading, is already headed by a legitimate bishop who is recognised by the Holy See, the 81-year-old Julius Jia Zhiguo. Clandestine Catholics see him as an emblematic figure for having continued to exercise his episcopal ministry without recognition from the Chinese government, even at the cost of being sent to prison or placed under house arrest on a number of occasions, even in his ripe old age. 


In recent times, Julius had publicly expressed his faith and hope in the dialogue between the Chinese government and the Holy See on controversial issues that have made life difficult and irregular for Chinese Catholics after Mao’s rise to power, starting with the question of episcopal nominations: “We have faith in the Pope. We are not worried. We know the Pope will not renounce things that are essential and which constitute the very nature of the Church,” said Jia in an exclusive interview with Vatican Insider last February. According to local sources, contacted by Vatican Insider, it is Julius’ conciliatory attitude Dong is using to justify his decision to be ordained bishop: the elderly Julius, with his conciliatory words has apparently become an “official” bishops who is willing to co-operate with the civil authorities and so the clandestine Catholics of Zhengding needed a new bishop they “could trust”. 

Dong pursued his goal, getting the elderly Emeritus of Tianshui, Casimirus Wang Milu – known for some time now, for his strange comments and behaviour – to ordain him. The news began to spread and soon caught the ear of China’s political bodies. 

Bishop Julius Jia lost no time in exercising his legitimate authority as bishop, declaring the excommunication of Fr. Dong and informing all priests and Catholic communities that the priest had incurred an automatic excommunication, as stipulated in the Code of Canon Law for those who conduct or receive illegitimate episcopal ordinations.

The entire incident is complex and the details still need to be clarified but it does shed light on some crucial aspects and processes regarding Chinese Catholicism at present. These tend to be deliberately obfuscated by the media in the context of relations between the Chinese government, the Church in China and the Holy See.

The words pronounced and immediate canonical measures taken by Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo are confirmation of the solid sensus fidei possessed  by the vast majority of clandestine bishops and the communities under their pastoral care. 


An increasing number of “clandestine” bishops are publicly expressing their hopes and faith in the dialogue between the Holy See and the Chinese government, conscious of the fact that it is this path that will gradually lead to the resolution or mitigation, at least, of the problems and conditioning they have long undergone, as a price for their loyalty to the Gospel and the Successor of Peter. 

At the same time, however, the Zhengding affair, painfully confirms the existence of minority groups within the clandestine sphere that have been contaminated by a Donatist sectarian rigorism. These groups are capable of anything, even of branding a professor of the faith such as Julius Jia of being a “traitor”, simply because of the hope he expressed regarding Sino’Vatican relations. 

These are the very same groups that had dismissed the pastoral guidelines set out in Pope Benedict XVI’s Letter to Catholics in China in 2007. 
These “staunch” Catholics refuse to recognise the validity of the sacraments administered in Chinese parishes by priests and bishops whose pastoral activities are regulated by the government and seem intent on adopting schismatic stances in the face of a gradual normalisation of relations between Beijing and the Holy See.

It is unlikely the Zhengding incident will be enough to sabotage Sino-Vatican relations. 


It will not take much to explain to Beijing’s officials that this isolated incident was not an attempt by the Vatican to “double-cross” China’s government, nor evidence of any intolerance on the part of Chinese Catholics towards the Holy See’s unswerving desire for dialogue: the immediate reaction that came from within the clandestine community itself, instigated by Bishop Julius Jia, is proof that the Church body which established itself in the former Celestial Empire, is armed with a solid supply of antibodies against sectarian breakaway groups and that all the trials and tribulations undergone in order to fully profess the faith in the depositum fidei has only strengthened and deepened the local Catholic community’s affection towards the Pope and its bond of communion with the Church of Rome.

It also immunises them against commentators and news agencies outside China that are constantly trying to put a political slant on the Holy See’s choices, presenting them as choices made on the basis of a naïve or cynical desire for political and diplomatic success rather than on the basis of pastoral and missionary concern for the spiritual life of China’s Catholics.

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