We are not amused: the Holy See’s reaction to the Chinese consecrations

The Holy See uttered forth its reaction to the two recent illicit episcopal consecrations in China.  I read the Reuters story which has been getting around.  However, when you read the actual statement of the Holy See’s Press Secretary, Dr. Joaquín Navarro-Valls, you get an entirely different picture of the Holy See’s reaction.  This was not just a strongly worded statement.  This was a flame.

Here is my unofficial translation of Dr. Navarro-Valls statement.  Note carefull that the Holy See is presenting an honorable escape from condemnation to most of the bishops and priests, not blaming them.  One can sense in this a divide et impera move.  But here goes:

I am in the position to make known the position of the Holy See concerning the episcopal ordinations of the priests Joseph Ma Yinglin and Joseph Liu Xinhong, which took place, respectively, Sunday 30 April in Kunming (Yunnan province) and Wednesday 3 May in Wuhu (Anhui province).  

The Holy Father learned the news with deep displeasure, since an action which is so important as an episcopal consecration is for the life of the Church, was performed in both cases without respect for the requirements of communion with the Pope.

We are facing, therefore, a grave wound to the unity of the Church, for which, as is known, there are foreseen severe canonical penalties (cf. canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law).

According to the information received, bishops and priests were subjected – on the part of organizations external to the Church – to strong pressures and threats so that they would take part in the episcopal ordinations which, being without any pontifical mandate, were illegitimate and, moreover, contrary to their conscience.  Some prelates opposed similar acts of pressure with a refusal, while others could not do other than endure them with great interior suffering.  Episodes of this sort produce rips (lacerazioni) not only in the Catholic community, but also in the very depths of consciences.

We are, therefore, witnessing a grave violation of religious liberty, even though an attempt was made under false pretexts to present the two episcopal ordinations as necessary acts to provide pastors for vacant diocese.

The Holy See follows with attention the tormented journey of the Catholic Church in China and, quite aware of certain distinctive dimensions of such a journey, was thinking and hoping that similar deplorable episodes would have belongs by now to the past.

She (the Holy See) consider now her precise duty to give voice to the suffering of the whole Catholic Church, in particular to that of the Catholic community in China and especially that of the bishops and priests, who see themselves as obliged against their conscience to carry out or participate in episcopal ordinations, which neither the candidate nor the consecrating bishops want to perform without having received pontifical mandate.

If the news is true according to which there might take place other episcopal consecrations in the same way, the Holy See reaffirms the necessity of respect for the liberty of the Church and the autonomy of her institutions from any kind of external interference, and she hopes that there will not be repeated such unacceptable acts of violent and intolerable coercion.

The Holy See has, on various occasions, reaffirmed the proper willingness for an honest and constructive dialogue with the competent Chinese authorities in order to find solutions which satisfy the legitimate requirements of both parties.

Initiatives like the abovementioned indicate not only that they do not support such a dialogue, but they on the contrary create new obstacles to it.

For the sake of being complete, after doing my translation I discovered another, prepared by Asia News:

“I am able,” the Vatican statement, released in Italian, reads, “to make known the Holy See’s position on the episcopal ordinations of priests Joseph Ma Yinglin and Joseph Liu Xinhong, which took place, respectively, Sunday, last April 30, in Kunming (Yunnan province) and on the 2nd of the current month of May, in Wuhu (Anhui province).

“The Holy Father learned with profound distressed of the news, as such an important act for the life of the Church, as is an episcopal ordination, was carried out in both cases without respecting the needs of communion with the Pope.  It is a serious blow to the unity of the Church, which calls for, as is known, severe canonical sanctions (cf canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law).

“According to the information received, Bishops and priests were subjected – by entities outside the Church – to heavy pressure and threats, so that they would take part in the episcopal ordinations which, lacking pontifical mandate, are illegitimate and, furthermore, contrary to their conscience.  Various Prelates opposed such pressures, while others could only suffer them with great interior suffering.  Episodes of this kind tear apart not only communities but consciences as well.

“We are therefore faced with a serious violation of religious freedom, even if efforts where made to make it appear that these two episcopal ordinations were dutiful acts for providing a Pastor to vacant dioceses.

“The Holy See is giving careful attention to the tormented journey of the Catholic Church in China and, despite being aware of certain peculiarities of this journey, thought and hoped that such deplorable episodes were by now a thing of the past.  It now considers it to be its precise duty to give voice to the suffering of the Catholic Church as a whole, in particular to that of the Catholic community in China and especially to that of Bishops and priests who see themselves forced against conscience to carry out and participate in episcopal ordinations, which neither the candidate nor the consecrating Bishop want to perform without having received pontifical mandate.

“If the news is true that other episcopal ordinations are to take place in the same way, the Holy See repeats the need for respecting the freedom of the Church and the autonomy of its institutions from any kind of external interference, and strongly hopes, therefore, that such unacceptable acts of violent and inadmissible constriction are never repeated.

“The Holy See has, on various occasions, reaffirmed it availability for honest and constructive dialogue with appropriate Chinese Authorities for the purpose of finding solutions that satisfy the legitimate needs of both Parties.

“Not only do initiatives such as those indicated above not encourage such dialogue, but they create new obstacles to them.”

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5 Responses to We are not amused: the Holy See’s reaction to the Chinese consecrations

  1. Tim Ferguson says:

    The AP and the AGI are erroneously reporting this by stating that the Vatican excommunicated or announced the excommunication of the bishops involved. The automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication spoken of by canon 1382 is indeed called into play here, but Navarro-Vals subsequent statements about the possibility of force and pressure impeding the bishops’ abiliity to act freely brings into play canon 1323, points 3,4 & 7 or canon 1324,1 point 8 and 1324,3. The penalties in the Code, including latae sententiae excommunication, are only to be rendered as a last resort – the penal law of the Church is subject to a strict interpretation (canon 18), and if the bishops ordaining (or the bishops ordained) were not capable of freely positing a human act because of fear or undue pressure (or even the presumption of undue pressure), then the panlties attached would either not apply or would need to be lessened.

    Surely these episcopal ordinations are serious breaches of the Church’s law. However, it’s not the place of a Vatican spokesman to announce excommunications (and Mr. Navarro-Vals did not actually do so, he merely indicated, properly, that these actions fit the material described in canon 1382). I hope a further clarification on the issue comes from the Vatican in short order.

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    penalties, not panlties

  3. Tim: Super good point you have made. The penalties foreseen in law presuppose that the person in question commits a sin. To commit a sin he must both know it is wrong and freely choose to do it anyway. If some of the bishops and priests involved were acting or participating under strong enough compulsion that they were truly fearful for their lives or the safety of their loved ones, that would mitigate the penalty.

    I think we all know about the way the PRC treats Catholic prelates.

    Thanks for making this point.

  4. CaesarMagnus says:

    Dr. Ed Peters addresses the issue Canonically, and even brings up the question
    of validity here:

    http://www.canonlaw.info/2006/05/second-thoughts-on-communist-episcopal.html

  5. Tim Ferguson says:

    I think Dr. Peters’ raising the question of the validity of the ordinations, based in part on the reasoning behind the declaration of the invalidity of Mormon baptism is a weak argument. The Church has long held that the intention needed to confect a sacrament is to be understood in a pretty minimal way – a pagan who has merely the intention to do what those crazy Christians do when they baptize would validly baptize someone if he follows the proper formulary. Even if the intention of the bishops ordaining or the bishops ordained was less than pure – if they were intending to “stick the Church in the eye”, it wouldn’t mean necessarily that their intention did not also include doing what the Church intends to do at ordination. As they are valid ministers of this sacrament and the men they ordain are valid matter for the sacrament, any determination of the invalidity of this act would have to come after a very thorough investigation into their intention. I suspect the validity of these sacraments would hold up under scrutiny.