Boys hold China’s national flag during Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in Rome. The Vatican says it hopes illicit ordinations of bishops in China would be a thing of the past after a planned ordination was postponed recently.

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican said it hoped the postponement of an illicit episcopal ordination in Hankou diocese would mark the end to all ordinations without papal approval in China.

The Vatican confirmed that the planned illicit ordination of Fr Joseph Shen Guo’an was postponed indefinitely; he was to have been ordained bishop of Hankou, or Wuhan, on June 9.

Fr Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, told Catholic News Service on June 10 that the Vatican hopes “this kind of ordination without the permission of the pope doesn’t ever happen again”. There was no new date set for the ordination or explanation for the postponement.

The postponement came after the Hong Kong-born secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples urged priests and bishops in China to show “some backbone” and resist government pressure to disobey the pope.

Vatican official Archbishop Savio Hon said Chinese priests and bishops should resist government pressure.

In an interview with the Rome-based AsiaNews on June 3, Archbishop Savio Hon Tai-fai said he had been aware of the planned ordination and that he knew Catholics there had been urging the government and the Chinese Patriotic Association not to go through with it.

He said he would want to tell Fr Shen: “I trust you to act the right way. The only thing to do is to refuse.” Archbishop Hon said even though the government still puts pressure on priests and bishops to follow its orders on illicit ordinations, the consequences of disobedience are less harsh now. “Today, for instance, there is no risk of forced labour, prison or death.”

Clergy may still be punished, however. For example, he said, they may lose public funding for their diocese, face difficulties in performing pastoral tasks, be isolated from other clergy or the faithful, be forbidden to travel abroad or within China, or may be forced into a “re-education” programme.

“In any case, the punishment that might be meted out is no reason not to resist. Submission is a public act that causes scandal, sending the wrong message to the faithful,” he said.

He added that those who have succumbed to government pressure and acted against papal mandate should “make public amends” to show the faithful their actions were wrong.

Refusing to participate in an illicit ordination also sends a powerful message to the government, the archbishop said. “If you show some weakness or a propensity toward compromise, the government will take advantage of you.” On the other hand, “the government could do nothing” when people stood firm and refused to be ordained by excommunicated bishops.

He said Blessed John Paul II’s words, “be not afraid”, are an inspiration to Chinese Catholics.

Bishops and priests afraid of government retribution for disobeying orders should get support from others, or “they should simply ask to be released from their pastoral duties and have the courage to suspend their ministry”.

Archbishop Hon said the government’s strategy in setting up a Church independent of the Vatican is a way to maintain control over religion and yet create the impression that there is religious freedom in the country. CNS

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