Vatican Condemnation of New Chinese Bishop Worsens Tensions

The New York Times By ANDREW JACOBS  Published: July 8, 2011
BEIJING — The Vatican’s unusually public condemnation of a newly ordained Chinese bishop this week — in which he was effectively excommunicated and other top Chinese church officials were warned of “serious” consequences — has aggravated the already frayed relations between the Holy See and China’s governing Communist Party as officials here make plans to ordain dozens more bishops, many without the Vatican’s approval.
The decision to formally announce the rejection of the bishop, the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin, of Sichuan Province, came shortly after China’s state-run Catholic church ignored the Vatican’s objections and went ahead with Bishop Lei’s ordination ceremony, which was attended by seven other bishops previously recognized by Rome.

Reached by phone, a Vatican official declined to discuss the case, but in a statement, church officials said Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened by the move, saying it “sows division and unfortunately produces rifts and tensions in the Catholic community in China.”
The Vatican said the seven bishops who took part in the ordination had “exposed themselves to serious canonical sanctions,” which experts said could include excommunication.
A spokesman for the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body that oversees state-run Catholic churches, would not talk about the clash. But in an e-mailed statement, the association expressed regret over the Vatican’s decision, saying it would prove divisive.
“It will bring more disputes to all churches and will affect the spread of the Gospel and church development,” the statement said.
Francesco Sisci, a journalist based in Beijing and a former Italian diplomat who is an expert on Sino-Vatican relations, said that all ordained bishops not approved by the pope are automatically excommunicated, so the Vatican’s additional step of announcing it — and the threat to those who took part in the ritual — was especially significant.
“When the pope decides to announce this and make it clear, it is very serious,” Mr. Sisci said. “The mechanism of communication between both sides is breaking down,” he added. “If there are a certain number of bishops who are not ordained by the Vatican, this church could become schismatic.”
China cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, shortly after the Communists came to power. Although the wholesale persecution of religion has eased significantly in China, the state still maintains a firm grip on organized religious practice, and it is especially wary of the challenge presented by papal authority.
There are nearly six million adherents of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Church. Some experts say nearly twice that number practice in unofficial churches.
Despite decades of animosity and mistrust, relations between Beijing and the Vatican have improved in recent years but the appointment of bishops remains a major point of contention. Last year, both sides appeared close to reaching a compromise on the issue, but after a prolonged stalemate, the patriotic association last November went ahead with the ordination of a bishop, who had not been approved by the Vatican, in the northern city of Chengde. Last month, the association signaled its continued willingness to override the papal mandate by suggesting that it might ordain another 40 bishops “without delay.”
Although Vatican officials have not publicly detailed their specific objections to the choice of Bishop Lei, they said he was rejected for “proven and very grave reasons” that he and other bishops are well aware of.
When Chinese church officials gathered in Leshan last week for the ordination, the planned consecration of another bishop in northern Hebei Province ended much differently.
Bishop-elect Joseph Sun Jigen, whose appointment had been approved by the pope, was reported to have been forced into a police car three days before the planned ceremony. The ceremony was canceled and, as of earlier this week, the would-be bishop, according to parishioners, was still being held at a guesthouse.
Shi Da contributed research.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 9, 2011, on page A6 of the New York edition with the headline: The Vatican And China Encounter A New Rift.

China Aid Contacts
Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
Cell: (432) 553-1080 | Office: 1+ (888) 889-7757 | Other: (432) 689-6985
Email: [email protected]