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The Vatican and China Face Off Over Bishop Ordination

25 Nov 2010

The Vatican strongly denounced the recent ordination of Bishop Guo Jincao (above, right) by the state-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) as a direct and “grave violation” of Church Law. The friar was ordained this past Sunday in Chengde, Hebei Province, with eight papally-ordained bishops reportedly present.

In a rather strongly-worded statement, the Vatican called the event “a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline,” and has now threatened to excommunicate the “illegally” ordained Bishop Guo. Alluding to reports that the bishops present for the ordination were forced by authorities to attend, the Church also accused Beijing of a “grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience.” Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen voiced similar thoughts, calling China’s actions “illegal” and “shameful,” suggesting that the latest move by China is virtually an act of war against the papacy.

The row over bishop ordination is the most recent of many disputes between the Vatican and Beijing, who have not had official relations since 1951, when the government expelled all foreign clergy. The last time the CPCA appointed a bishop without papal authority was 2006. While the Chinese Foreign Ministry is yet to comment, CPCA Vice Chairman Liu Bainian said he did not think the excommunication would go through.”There are so many followers in China,” he told the AP. “I believe the Pope loves China, he won’t make such a decision.”

The CPCA also noted that there are 40 vacant bishop positions in China, so there is a possibility for further controversy, as both the Vatican and the CPCA maintain that they have exclusive rights to ordain bishops in China. Estimates put China’s Catholic population somewhere between 10-14 million, while the official census counts only 4 million. Some think this shows that many of China’s Catholics are indeed loyal to Pope Benedict XVI, as they remain unlisted as official members of the state-backed church.

The question of papal authority (or infallibility) is not a new one in China. In the 16th century, Matteo Ricci (above, left) encountered a similar problem while trying to win converts in China. Knowing that good Confucians would not submit to Papal authority before that of the Emperor, he quietly left this issue aside. Ricci also allowed converts to continue practicing Confucian ancestor worship, viewing it not as idolatry, but as social ceremonies.

This incident would lead to the “Chinese Rites Controversy,” arguably the first dispute between the Chinese government and the Pope, during which Pope Clement XI decreed that Chinese converts were forbidden from practicing ancestor worship and observing the spring and autumn festivals.

Of course, the Kangxi Emperor kindly responded by banning all Christian missionaries in China. To this day, it is illegal for foreigners to evangelize in China. Of course, China and the Communist Party have never had great relationships with organized religion. Just ask His Holiness the Dali Lama.

[via BBC]

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