The 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.
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”.
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.
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.
“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.