The Vatican has issued a strong statement against the episcopal ordination of Fr John Wang Renlei on 30 November 2006, at Xuzhou in the province of Jiangsu, China.
The bishop was consecrated and installed without sanction from Rome, because the Catholic Patriotic Association in China has chosen to call and recognise its own episcopal leaders. Supporters of their approach say that it is consistent with 'spiritual relations' between Chinese Catholics and the Vatican, recognising the same rite and lineage of apostolic succession.
The Chinese government does not permit formal, institutional relations between Catholics and the Vatican - which would allow what they see as a foreign power having effective control of a religious group in China. However millions of Catholic believers recognise the authority of the Pope and his office in the universal church, and the question of unauthorised episcopal ordinations has caused considerable tension.
The Holy See was expected to condemn the recent action, as it has always done in the past. Observers say that this disagreement is another significant obstacle to improved relations between China and the Vatican, though it does not alter the existing situation in principle. Rome has also been careful to keep an olive barnch extended at the same time as expressing dismay and disapproval, and hopes that persuasion and a consistent policy will consolidate long-term recognition of the magesterium.
The statement reads as follows:
"The Holy Father learned the news with great sadness, because this episcopal ordination was conferred without the pontifical mandate, in other words without respecting the discipline of the Catholic Church concerning the appointment of bishops (cf. canon 377 paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law).
"That of Xuzhou is just the latest - in order of time - of the illegitimate episcopal ordinations which have been afflicting the Catholic Church in China for a number of decades, creating divisions in diocesan communities and tormenting the consciences of many ecclesiastics and faithful. This extremely grave series of acts, which offend the religious sentiments of all Catholics in China and the rest of the world, is the fruit and consequence of a vision of the Church that does not correspond to Catholic doctrine and undermines the fundamental principles of her hierarchical structure. Indeed, as Vatican Council II makes clear, 'one is constituted a member of the episcopal body in virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the body'."
"The Holy See, having learned only at the last minute of the planned episcopal ordination in the diocese of Xuzhou, did not fail to take the steps possible in the brief time available in order to prevent an act that would have produced a fresh laceration in ecclesial communion. In fact, an illegitimate episcopal ordination is an act objectively so serious that Canon Law lays down severe penalties for those who confer or receive it, assuming the act was carried out in conditions of true freedom (cf. canon 1382 paragraph 1 of the Code of Canon Law).
"It is a consolation to note that, despite past and present difficulties, almost the entirety of bishops, priests, religious and lay people in China, conscious of their status as living limbs of the Universal Church, have maintained a profound communion of faith and of life with Peter's Successor and with all Catholic communities around the world.
"The Holy See is aware of the spiritual crisis and suffering of those ecclesiastics - consecrating bishops and ordinands - who find themselves compelled to be an active part of illegitimate episcopal ordinations, thus contravening the Catholic tradition which, in their hearts, they would like to follow faithfully The Holy See also shares the interior disquiet of those Catholics - priests, religious and laity - who find themselves obliged to accept a pastor whom they know is not in full hierarchical communion with the head of the College of Bishops or with other bishops around the world.
"As regards these episcopal ordinations, the Holy See cannot accept being faced with a 'fait accompli.' Therefore, it deplores the procedure with which the ordination of Fr Wang Renlei in Xuzhou was carried out, and hopes that incidents of this kind will not be repeated in the future."