LESHAN, China, JULY 19, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a document of questions and answers prepared by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples that addressed the July 4 statement of the Holy See on the illegitimate episcopal ordination that took place June 26 in Leshan.

The document was published on the CatholicsInChina blog of the Fides News Service.

* * *

Preliminary Remarks

-- This is a response from the CEP to questions raised by the faithful in China regarding the Declaration of the Holy See (04.07.2011) on the illegitimate episcopal ordination of Leshan (29.06.2011).

-- The response given here is of merely pastoral concern.

-- Some experts of Canon Law have been consulted in articulating the answer.

--- --- ---

Regarding Father Paul Lei Shiyin

Q: Is Father Paul Lei Shiyin now in the state of "latae sententiae" excommunication?

A: Yes. By the very act of receiving episcopal ordination without the pontifical mandate, Father Lei has already incurred the "latae sententiae" excommunication (See Can. 1382), which is further "declared" publicly by the Holy See. Excommunication is a very severe form of penalty in the Church that excludes the excommunicated person from the visible communion of the faithful.

Q: What does it mean by a public declaration of this kind?

A: A public declaration of a "latae sententiae" penalty in the Church is intended to make it clear to the offender that he has incurred the prescribed canonical sanction, and to make known to the faithful the canonical situation of the offender. In the present case, it is also meant to summon Father Lei to repent at once by approaching the Holy See (Can. 1382). At the same time, this public declaration urges vigorous action to be taken by the Church in China (namely Bishops, Priests, Religious, and Laity) to resist any form of illegitimate episcopal ordination. A declared excommunication is a "must" for the Holy See, if circumstances should at any time oblige and, above all, when the good of the souls is seriously at stake.

Q: Does excommunication mean being expelled from the Church?

A: No. The Church has both visible social and invisible mystical dimensions. The excommunicated person to a certain extent is excluded from active participation in Catholic community life in a visible social sense with all its juridical effects (Can. 1331). The same person by virtue of the baptism still remains a member of the Church -- the mystical body of Christ. That is why he can still approach the Holy See, which is the only place he can go for reconciliation.

Q: What are the juridical effects of Can. 1331?

A: The excommunicated person is forbidden to celebrate the Holy Mass, to administer/receive sacraments, or to hold any ecclesial office. He, though ordained bishop, has no power to govern the diocese. Thus, priests and faithful (except for grave cause, e.g., in point of death) should not only avoid receiving sacraments from him, but also keep him away from celebrating all forms of liturgy or Ecclesial ceremony, and to suspend the liturgy or ceremony, in case he does not observe the prohibition. In short, such penalty deprives the excommunicated person from some spiritual good, so that through this "medicinal" penalty he may soon come to real repentance.

Q: Can Father Lei be forgiven?

A: Yes. The "public declaration" is meant precisely for that. Father Lei has to immediately approach the Holy See for forgiveness. Then, he has to implement meticulously the instruction given to him by the Holy See. Afterwards, the Holy Father, based on his true repentance, removes his excommunication. Until then, he will remain excommunicated.

Q: Once his excommunication is removed, can Father Lei automatically exercise the episcopal ministry?

A: No, he cannot. The removal of excommunication is one thing; and the episcopal appointment is another. These two things are distinct. The Holy See has so far expressed that for some serious reasons Father Lei cannot be appointed bishop. In other words, even if his excommunication is removed, he is not entitled to acting like a bishop, wearing a bishop's insignia, and being addressed as bishop.

--- --- ---

Regarding the Consecrating Bishops

Q: What is the current status of the seven consecrating bishops?

A: They have exposed themselves to the grave canonical sanctions laid down by the law of the Church (Declaration 04.07.2011). This means that "when an external violation has occurred, imputability is presumed unless it is otherwise apparent" (Can 1321, §3). The "presumed imputability" means that there is a sufficient reason to ascertain that these bishops actually committed a grave act of indiscipline through the illegitimate episcopal ordination and, thus, are presumed to have incurred the excommunication, unless the contrary is proved.

Q: Can they continue their normal episcopal ministry?

A: No, they may not do so, as long as their "presumed imputability" is not removed.

Q: What should they do?

A: First and foremost, it is their duty to immediately approach the Holy See for forgiveness and to explain reasons for which they have participated in the illegitimate episcopal ordination and wait for the reply from the Holy See.

Q: What, if a consecrating bishop in his conscience holds that he has not incurred the excommunication?

A: "Conscience" is a sacred place where the bishop in question has to stay honest to God. However, other people cannot see through his conscience. As long as the "presumed imputability" is not removed, the bishop in question has to abstain from all public ministries. In the meantime, he remains obliged to approach the Holy See.

Q: Should their priests and faithful avoid receiving sacraments administered by them?

A: Yes, they should, not because the priests and faithful are in a position to judge the conscience of the bishop in question, but because the "presumed imputability" is not yet removed.

Q: What else can the priests and faithful do when the "presumed imputability" of a consecrating bishop is not yet removed?

A: First of all, they should remain firm in their faith and keep safeguarding the unity of the community. As to their bishop with "presumed imputability", the priests and faithful are very much encouraged to pray for him and to remind him, when needed, of the teaching of the Church. Illegitimate episcopal ordination does not only violate seriously the discipline or obfuscate the doctrine, but above all profoundly wounds the communion of the Church.

Prayer is of utmost importance that our pastors be always strengthened and accompanied by the Lord. In fact, in China there are admirable bishops. "We must thank the Lord", said the Holy Father, "for this constant presence, not without suffering, of Bishops who have received episcopal ordination in conformity with Catholic tradition, that is to say, in communion with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter, and at the hands of validly and legitimately ordained Bishops in observance of the rite of the Catholic Church." (No. 8 Letter of Benedict XVI to the Church in China).