HONG KONG – Eleven dioceses in China have elected their bishop candidates and are awaiting the approval of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, says the head of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The candidates were being elected to fill vacant dioceses in China and for the spread of the Gospel, Bishop Johan Fang Xinyao of Linyi, chairman of the government-sanctioned Church authority said in an article published by the official China Daily.
Vacancies in 44 out of 97 dioceses have seriously hindered evangelisation work in China, where there are around six million Catholics, he noted.
Church observers say the decision to elect bishop candidates is problematic. “The news sounds provocative,” said one observer, who warned Catholics in mainland China to check the canonical status of these candidates as not all of them have been approved by the Vatican.
“We don’t know who these 11 candidates are but we are certain that if anyone accepts to be ordained without a papal mandate, he is exposing himself to sanctions envisaged by canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law,” said Mr Anthony Lam Sui-ki, executive secretary of the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong.
Illicit ordinations contribute nothing to the Church and act against the communion of the Church, he said.
It could also be a “slap in the face for Beijing” as no one can be sure that illicit bishops might not ask for communion with the Vatican, Mr Lam noted, citing that Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, who was illicitly ordained in 2006, had written to the pope to seek communion with the Universal Church.
One should avoid doing things that “sadden the Church while embarrassing the central government”, he added.
China-Vatican relations have been tense since the organising of an illicit ordination in Chengde and the staging of the Eighth National Catholic Representatives Congress last year.
Both incidents were to be discussed at the Vatican’s China commission’s three-day plenary meeting, which ended recently.
Pope Benedict XVI established the commission in 2007 to study major issues surrounding the Church in China.