Vatican: A "Catholic" Church in China Must Follow Church Doctrine

Holy Father «Deeply Saddened» at Latest Illicit Ordination

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 5, 2011 ( If China wants a church that is Catholic, then it must follow the Church’s doctrine and discipline, a statement from the Holy See reminded Monday.

The succinct Vatican message responded to the June 29 episcopal ordination of Father Paul Lei Shiyin, which occurred without the Pope’s approval. A similar ordination took place last November, followed the next month by an assembly of national Church representatives that the Vatican did not recognize.

Monday’s Vatican statement announced that «Reverend Lei Shiyin had been informed, for some time, that he was unacceptable to the Holy See as an episcopal candidate for proven and very grave reasons.»

The Vatican’s statement reiterated applicable canon law in these matters, noting that without the papal mandate, the ordination is illegitimate and that Lei Shiyin «has no authority to govern the diocesan Catholic community, and the Holy See does not recognize him as the bishop of the Diocese of Leshan.»

It added that the sanctions of Canon 1382 — which reads: «A bishop who consecrates someone a bishop without a pontifical mandate and the person who receives the consecration from him incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See» — remain in place.

The Vatican statement also affirmed that the consecrating bishops «have exposed themselves to the grave canonical sanctions laid down by the law of the Church» and it referenced not only Canon 1382, but also a declaration from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, released just last month.


According to UCANews, six participating prelates in the ordination are Vatican-approved bishops. However, four of the six have previously participated in illicit ordinations, it reported.

The June 11 statement from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts did note mitigating factors listed in Canon 1324, and suggested that in an atmosphere of fear, such as that of China, «the situation of each of the individuals that intervene in the [episcopal ordination] rite must be verified: the consecrating ministers and the consecrated clerics.»
«Each one of them knows in his heart the level of personal involvement and right conscience, which will indicate to each if he has incurred a punishment latae sententiae,» the council clarified.

In the Pope’s heart

The situation of the Church in China has been a priority for Benedict XVI.

In 2007, he established a commission to study the major issues regarding the Church there. It met for the fourth time in April.

The Holy Father has also been drawing universal attention to a Day of Prayer for the Church in China, held May 24, the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, who is venerated with great devotion at the Shrine of Sheshan in Shanghai.

Sowing division

Despite these efforts, the Vatican’s statement Monday noted how illicit ordinations «produce rifts and tensions.»

The communiqué declared: «An episcopal ordination without Papal mandate is directly opposed to the spiritual role of the Supreme Pontiff and damages the unity of the Church. The Leshan ordination was a unilateral act which sows division and unfortunately produces rifts and tensions in the Catholic community in China.

«The survival and development of the Church can only take place in union with him to whom the Church herself is entrusted in the first place, and not without his consent as, however, occurred in Leshan. If it is desired that the Church in China be Catholic, the Church’s doctrine and discipline must be respected.»

The statement added that the Leshan episcopal ordination «has deeply saddened the Holy Father, who wishes to send to the beloved faithful in China a word of encouragement and hope, inviting them to prayer and unity.»

Cloudy context

In China, the government permits religious practice only with recognized personnel and in places registered with the Religious Affairs Office and under the control of the Patriotic Association.

Hence, there is a «national» or «official» Church, and an «underground» Church of the faithful who oppose such control and who wish to obey the Pope directly.

In May, leading up to the Day of Prayer for the Church in China, Benedict XVI made an impassioned appeal.

«Chinese Catholics, as they have said many times, want unity with the universal Church, with the Supreme Pastor, with the Successor of Peter,» he said on that occasion. «By our prayers we can obtain for the Church in China that it remain one, holy and Catholic, faithful and steadfast in doctrine and in ecclesial discipline. She deserves all our affection.»

As the national Church proceeded with the illicit ordination of Lei Shiyin, a priest that does have Vatican approval for episcopal ordination remained under arrest.

Father Sun Jigen was to be ordained June 29 as coadjutor for the Diocese of Handan. The 43-year-old bishop-designate was taken away by police the Sunday prior to his ordination.

AsiaNews reported Monday that two priests of the diocese who were asked to meet with Religious Affairs Office officials regarding the bishop-designate have also disappeared.

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On ZENIT’s Web page:

Vatican Statement:

A report on the June clarification from the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts:

Benedict XVI’s appeal in May for the Church in China:

A report on the national Church’s meeting last December:

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