VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican has condemned the ordinations of priests in China’s underground Catholic Church as a “grave violation” of canon law.
In a strongly worded statement released Monday (Nov. 7), the Vatican sought to defuse ongoing tensions with China as negotiations continue on a broader agreement on bishop nominations.
“In recent weeks there has been a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without papal mandate,” said Greg Burke, head of the Vatican press office, said in a statement.
“The Holy See has not authorized any ordination nor has it been officially informed of such events,” the statement reads. “Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.”
The Vatican statement was issued following recent news regarding the Rev. Dong Guanhua, a Chinese priest who announced his ordination as bishop in September and offered to ordain others without the pope’s approval.
According to media reports, Dong, whose surname in Chinese custom comes first, dressed in bishop vestments, carried a pastoral staff, and conducted his “episcopal enthronement” Mass in a church in the Diocese of Zhengding, in Hebei province near Beijing.
At the time, Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, the legitimate local bishop recognized by the Vatican, sent a statement to local priests announcing that Dong had been excommunicated because his episcopal ordination took place without the Holy See’s consent.
While the Vatican said Monday it had no confirmation of Dong’s decision, it stressed that any ordination without papal mandate was illegal.
“The Holy See hopes that such reports are baseless,” the statement reads. “However, it is reiterated that it is not licit to proceed with any episcopal ordination … even by appealing to particular personal beliefs.”
There are varying estimates about how many Catholics there are in China but the number is believed to be at least 9 million.
A large number prefer to practice their faith outside the control of the Communist Party’s Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and priests who reject party control risk severe punishment.
The pope has praised China and earlier this year he expressed his desire to visit the country one day.
(Josephine McKenna is RNS’ Vatican correspondent)