By Alessandro Speciale
The Vatican Commission on the Church in China has condemned the participation of illicitly ordained bishops in recent episcopal ordinations as a “usurpation” of power and has expressed concerns over a decline in priestly vocations in the country.
In a statement released earlier this week, the Vatican said that “illegitimate bishops” who “have carried out acts of jurisdiction,” or have administered sacraments, “usurp a power which the Church has not conferred upon them.”
The statement follows recent ordinations last week in Hunan and Nanchang, in both of which illicitly ordained bishops participated.
“In recent days some of them have participated in episcopal ordinations which were authorized by the Church. The behavior of these bishops, in addition to aggravating their canonical status, has disturbed the faithful and often has violated the consciences of the priests and lay faithful who were involved,” the statement said.
The commission further called on legitimate bishops who have taken part in illicit ordinations to ask forgiveness of the pope “as soon as possible” and stressed that those who have asked pardon in the past have received it.
“The Church needs good bishops,” the statement said.
The statement said the Vatican has followed these “painful events” in the China Church vigorously but charitably.
“Evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline.
“Obedience to the pope [is the] presupposition of every true renewal.”
The commission was created in 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI and comprises cardinals of the Roman Curia together with Chinese bishops and heads of religious orders.
It convened for its annual session this week in Rome, specifically to address the issue of improving lay Catholic formation in China.
In their final statement following the meeting, the cardinals sounded a conciliatory note by recognizing that “Catholics are called to take part in civic life,” which includes “promoting values which are also proper to traditional Chinese culture.”