Just when the Vatican had thought that dialog with the Chinese government was approaching an agreement for episcopal ordinations in China, it gets a slap in the face. The Roman Catholic Church exists in two forms in China, the government sanctioned and tightly controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and an underground church. The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is controlled by the Chinese Communist party and is not currently recognized by the Vatican. The underground church owes its allegiance only to the Pope.
In 2011, the Revd Paul Lei Shi-yin was consecrated a bishop without the approval of Pope Benedict 16 and was considered to be automatically excommunicated by the act. But, last Wednesday, 30 NOV, the Rt Revd Paul Lei Shi-yin, Bishop of Leshan, which is in Sichuan province, took part in the episcopal ordination of a new bishop for Chinese Catholics in the Diocese of Chengdu. The ordination took place in the cathedral in Chengdu, which is also in Sichuan province, in the southwest of China. The Revd Tang Yuange was made the new bishop. Chinese faithful in Chengdu tried to prevent Lei from taking part in the ritual. Protesters with banners recalling his 2011 excommunication, wished to keep him from entering the cathedral to participate. Local police forces were called out to ensure a peaceful service. It was reported by a Reuters reporter viewing the service that Lei participated as one of six bishops in the laying on of hands for Tang.
In compliance with Canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law, we strongly oppose Lei Shi-yin, who has been automatically excommunicated [latae sententiae]
– banner in Chinese outside the Chengdu cathedral
Two days later in Xichang, in the far south of Sichuan province, Bishop Lei again participated in the ordination of a new bishop for the Diocese of Xichang, a See which has been vacant since 1999. The Revd Lei Jiapei, who has served as the diocesan administrator since 1999, was consecrated the bishop. Again Bishop Lei Shi-yin was one of 6 bishops participating, as was the newly consecrated Bishop Tang Yuange of Chengdu. The service in Xichang was uneventful as the presence of both uniformed and plainclothes police were evident. There was no protest by Xichang Catholics.
The Roman Church mandates that all bishops must have the papal mandate to be legitimate. The Chinese government views the pope as the head of a foreign state meddling in the local affairs of China. The government feels that the Chinese Catholics should be able to elect their own bishops without Vatican interference. Because he is considered excommunicated, the Roman church considers that Bishop Lei is committing a sacrilege by his participation in any sacrament.
Emissaries from Pope Francis had been meeting with Chinese officials in secret talks this past year to iron out a proposed agreement on the selection of bishops for the Chinese Catholic Church. However, these two episcopal consecrations point to a Chinese government that is still in control and bypassing the Vatican’s opinion on the matter. The Vatican is concerned that failure to reach an agreement on this important matter will further divide the Catholic church in China when the Vatican’s goal is unification.