Tensions rise as excommunicated bishop attends Chinese Episcopal ordinationFriday, April 20th, 2012
A Chinese bishop, excommunicated by the Vatican, attended the ordination of the new bishop of Nanchong, Bishop Joseph Chen Gong'ao (47) on yesterday (April 19).
Bishop Chen Gong'ao (pictured) was approved as a candidate for ordination as bishop in 2002, but was not actually elected bishop-candidate through the ‘democratic process’ that is used in mainland China until 2010. As with other recent ordinations, the bishop was ordained with both Vatican and national Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) approval. The CPA is a body created by the Chinese government, which is not recognised by the Holy See.
However, present at his ordination yesterday, was Fr Lei Shiyin from the CPA, who was excommunicated after he was ordained bishop in June last year without the approval of the Pope. In November, Fr Paul Lei Shiyin attended another ordination ceremony in his bishop's garb, a move denounced some time later by Vatican spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi.
Interviewed by UCAN earlier this week, Fr Lei Shiyin, who is the head of the state-sanctioned church in Sichuan province, said, “Why should I not go?” adding that it is a, “normal and natural practice” to congratulate and support each other whenever dioceses in the province hold big events.
Although the relationship between the Underground Church (which retains its bond with the Pope) and the Patriotic church is tense at times, in recent years things have improved, especially through the joint appointment of some bishops.
The new bishop of Nanchong has been acting as diocesan administrator since the last bishop died in 2004 and is rector of the Sichuan Catholic seminary. According to UCAN, he enjoys the reputation, “for his creativity in evangelisation and being a good priest.”
He also sits as a committee member of the national CPA and is chairman of the CPA in Nanchong City.
According to official statistics, China has 5.7 million Catholics, although independent sources say the number is closer to 12 million. Nanchong diocese has an estimated Catholic population of 80,000 faithful, including 13 priests and 11 sisters. The diocese covers 34 cities including Nanchong city, which has a population of 7.3 million people.
Meanwhile on Easter Sunday, two Catholic bishops were released from custody in China. Coadjutor Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou in eastern Zhejiang province had been detained for three weeks, while Bishop Peter Jin Lugang of Nanyang in central Henan province was arrested for four days over Easter.
Bishop Shao was one of four underground Catholic bishops who earned the displeasure of the Chinese government when he took part in the ordination of the Bishop of Tianshui in north-western Gansu province last year, a move seen as an act of defiance to the Patriotic Catholic church’s policy of, “self-election and self-ordination.”
On March 19, Bishop Shao was detained by government officials, and taken, “sightseeing,” to the Leshan diocese where he met members of the Patriotic church, including the excommunicated bishop, Paul Lei Shiyin.
Fr Lei and the officials showed Bishop Shao a Church-run hospital, guesthouse and the construction site of the new bishop’s house. According to UCAN news agency, Bishop Shao was urged to cooperate with the government. The bishop told them he is not opposed to cooperation as long as it does not go against the, “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.”
Bishop Peter Jin Lugang was also detained over Easter. On Holy Thursday, he was prevented from celebrating the Chrism Mass, and instead, taken off by four officials to a number of tourist spots. He was released on Easter Sunday.
by Susan Gately