China consecrates a bishop. Canonist Ed Peters comments.

I would like today to remind Catholic readers in America, especially, to be thankful for the blessings of a still society and the still free exercise of religion.

You have probably heard that there was a consecration of a bishop in China for the “official” Church.

The Holy See made a statement (with added emphases):

VATICAN CITY, 24 NOV 2010 (VIS) – The Holy See Press Office today released the following English-language communique concerning an episcopal ordination at Chengde in the province of Hebei, Mainland China: . . . (2) It is known that, in recent days, various bishops were subjected to pressures and restrictions on their freedom of movement, with the aim of forcing them to participate and confer the episcopal ordination. Such constraints, carried out by Chinese government and security authorities, constitute a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience. The Holy See intends to carry out a detailed evaluation of what has happened, including consideration of the aspect of validity and the canonical position of the bishops involved. (3) In any case, this has painful repercussions, in the first case, for Fr. Joseph Guo Jincai who, because of this episcopal ordination, finds himself in a most serious canonical condition before the Church in China and the universal Church, exposing himself also to the severe sanctions envisaged, in particular, by canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law.

The distinguished canonist Ed Peters makes observations about this consecration on his excellent blog In The Light Of the Law.


If I were the Chinese government, I would not be so sure that Saturday’s episcopal ordination ceremonies had, in fact, resulted in the ordination of a bishop.

Quite aside from the pervasive illiceity of the alleged ordination—for which the HSPO rightly notes that excommunication attaches at least to Joseph Guo Jincai per 1983 CIC 1382—the validity of an ordination attempted under these kinds of circumstances is subject to challenge, and the adjudication of such challenges are solely within the jurisdiction of the Church (1983 CIC 841, 1400-1401, 1708-1712).

What might those challenges be? Basically, force and/or fear, under 1983 CIC 125. By the institution of Christ (nb: not the State, and not even the Church), sacraments have certain unalterable requirements for their performance. Among those requirements is sufficient freedom and consent on the part of the minister. The freedom and intentionality of any minister performing a role under these sort of oppressive conditions is obviously suspect.

To be sure, sacraments are robust things and the Church does not frequently find their conferral invalid (1983 CIC 10); but then, we don’t frequently run into modern governments still operating as if sacraments were some kind of magical rites that, when pronounced by the right person wearing the right wardrobe, mysteriously achieve their effects hocus-pocus.



Someone sent me a link to a Youtube video with a musical version of the Salve Regina sung by men  in a classical Chinese musical style.  I found it exceptionally beautiful and moving.  There are also quotes which have an influence of the Taoist perspective, but they are pretty sound.

This is inculturation.

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  1. rakesvines says:

    I wrote “Thank you” in Chinese but it became ????

    [Perhaps… “謝謝!” ?]

  2. chonak says:

    At this point we know that some of the licit bishops were compelled to attend the ceremony. Do we know that they participated in it, and whether they laid hands on the “Patriotic Church” ordinand? Even in that case, we don’t know that they had the intention to ordain or whether they perhaps deliberately withheld it.

  3. J Kusske says:

    I know the people at one of the dioceses involved (Liaoning/Shenyang) and they’re not friendly to the central authorities. I am sure that the report I saw that their bishop (Paul Pei) was dragooned into attending and forcibly driven out to Chengde by the PSB is true. I can’t see that an ordination done under grand duress like that could be a valid one, but I’m no canonist. My understanding is that the “diocese” this ordination was done for (Chengde) isn’t recognized by the Vatican either. All we can do now is pray, and ask God to sort things out, and inspire the hearts that need it–come Holy Ghost, amen!

  4. lmgilbert says:

    The video was glorious, and although I do not understand Chinese it was very nice to clearly hear the word, “Maria.” So we speak the same language after all.

    Also, you spoke of inculturation. In that connection it was very delightful to see the long quote from Thomas Merton as a kind of validation of his efforts to communicate the West to the East and the East to the West:

    “In the end the contemplative suffers the anguish of realizing that he no longer knows what God is.
    He may or may not mercifully realize that after all, this is a great gain, because “God is not a what,” not a “thing”. That is precisely one of the essential characteristics of contemplative experience. It sees that there is no “what” that can be called God. There is “no such thing” as God because God is neither a “what” nor a “thing” but a pure who. He is the Thou before whom our inmost “I” springs into awareness. He is the I AM before whom with our own most personal and inalienable voice we echo “I am”.

    Thomas Merton – New Seeds of Contemplation

  5. leonugent2005 says:

    If I were Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, I would not be so sure that the episcopal ordination ceremonies on 30 June 1988 had, in fact, resulted in the ordination of bishops.

  6. Jerry says:

    @leonugent2005 – “If I were Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, I would not be so sure that the episcopal ordination ceremonies on 30 June 1988 had, in fact, resulted in the ordination of bishops.”

    There is a significant difference between the two situations: the duress against the bishops in China and the question of their intent to the extent they participated in the ceremony. Without the intent to confer the sacrament, it never happened, regardless of what words were said.

    Abp. Lefebvre clearly performed the episcopal ordination of his own free will and presumably had the intent to confer the ordination. Had the factors that made the ordination also made it invalid, the Church would have issued a warning to that effect. I am not aware of any such warning having been issued, thus I surmise there is no legitimate question of the validity of the ordination.

  7. QMJ says:

    Absolutely beautiful. A magnificent example of true inculturation. I noticed that the quotes were extremely apophatic, which reminded me of something Pope Benedict said during his Wednesday audience on Dionysius the Areopagite:

    “Today Dionysius the Areopagite has a new relevance: he appears as a great mediator in the modern dialogue between Christianity and the mystical theologies of Asia, whose characteristic feature is the conviction that it is impossible to say who God is, that only indirect things can be said about him; that God can be spoken of only with the ‘not’, and that it is possible to reach him by entering into his indirect experience of ‘not’. And here a similarity can be seen between the thought of the Areopagite and that of Asian religions; he can be a mediator today as he was between the Greek spirit and the Gospel.”

  8. Konichiwa says:

    Inculturation, when done properly is beautiful.

  9. Prof. Basto says:

    For the valid administration of a Sacrament, three elements, matter, form, and intention need to be in place. So important is for the Church the Sacrament of Holy Orders in its highest manifestation (the consecration of a bishop), carrying with it the transmission of the Apostolic succession, that the Episcopal ordination is never performed by only one consacrator, but by a group of consacrators (usually three), so that any defect of intention on the part of one of them may not invalidate the sacrament.

    Usually, the Church considers sufficient proof of intention the utterance of the words prescribed by the liturgical rubrics; if the minister is following the Catholic rite of episcopal consacration, it is presumed that he wants to consacrate a Bishop for the Church.

    However, this presumption is not an absolute presumption; if it can be shown that, despite appearences, intention was lacking (in all the ministers of the Sacrament, that is, in this case, in the principal consecrators AND the co-consecrators), then there is no true ordination, but an invalid attempt to consecrate.

    In this case, given the duress, the moral coercion, to which the People’s Republic of China submitted the ordaining prelates to force them to participate, this according to the accounts that reached Rome, then we are before a unusual situation in which we can assume a high probability of lack of intention in the part of the Consecrators.

    In this case, not only would they not incurr the canonical penalty for performing an ordination without mandate, but also the Sacrament would be invalid, for lack of intention, because they acted against their will and under durress.

  10. leonugent2005 says:

    @Jerry It’s questionable that an ordination and a sin can occur in the very same act. Archbishop Lefvebre was committing a schismatic act and performing an ordination in the very same act. The point is moot however because Father Fellay has no diocese.

  11. mike cliffson says:

    Please don’t use “hocuspocus”
    Iam far from sure it’s proven, having been unable to track it myself, but enough believe , both among Catholics AND attackers .that it’s a Tudor take and mockery of the consecration”Hoc est corpus”.

  12. mike cliffson says:

    Mea Culpa
    Not you Fr, Ed Peters. I didn’t spot the colour change.

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