An upcoming priestly ordination in Dali diocese has sparked controversy after it was announced that an illicitly ordained bishop is to preside over the ceremony.
Dali diocese is set to hold its first priestly ordination since the Church hierarchy was established in China in 1946.
Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming, the only “open” bishop in the province and president of the government-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference, is to officiate at the ordination, though he was ordained without papal mandate.
A Church observer who asked not to be named said Bishop Ma risks a sacrilegious act if he participates in the ordination.
“It would make the new priests irregular according to Canon Law,” the observer said.
“Bishop Ma is also prohibited from doing this according to Canon 1331, as he is still illegitimate. There is no need for him to violate Church law in order to be loyal only to government officials.”
He added, “I would advise him to follow the example of the other illicit Chinese bishops by sending the deacons to another Vatican-approved bishop for the rite.”
However, a source in Dali said the Church could only address the matter according to their situation.
“This is not simply a religious matter but touches on the government’s law and regulations,” adding that Church officials could not ask another bishop from an outer province to perform the rite when there is already one in the province.
“Some people or organizations outside China that do not understand our situation tend to give unrealistic comments. An absolute solution to this problem may have to wait until the Holy See legitimizes Bishop Ma,” the source said.
The three priestly candidates set for ordination are Tibetan-ethnic Liu Zhibin, Miao-ethnic Li Jiaoquan and Jingpo-ethnic Pai Zaonan.
“They are the first batch of priests cultivated by our diocese, so many faithful wish to attend the ceremony,” the source said.
Dali diocese currently has three priests and three nuns serving 80,000 laypeople, mostly belonging to seven tribal groups who live in remote mountainous areas.
Differences in culture and language as well as poor transportation infrastructure make it hard for pastoral and evangelistic work.
“A priest travels nearly 60,000 kilometers a year to visit the faithful,” the source said.
Three deacons will also be ordained priests during the March 26 ceremony, including Cao Taishan and Wang Jifeng of Kunming diocese, and Huang Xiaojin of Zhaotong apostolic prefecture, who are all from Yunnan.