HONG KONG – A Catholic lay leader from Beijing said China will continue to “self-elect and self-ordain” bishops.
“We ordain bishops only for the sake of evangelization in the mainland. Nobody can stop us,” said Anthony Liu Bainian, vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which acts as a liaison between the Chinese government and Catholic churches that have registered with the government.
Liu told the Asian church news agency UCA News July 3 that it is up to Rome to recognize these bishops.
Pope Benedict XVI’s June 30 letter to the Catholic community in China described the self-elected and self-ordained bishops in China as “validly ordained.” But it said certain bishops among them “lack a pontifical mandate” and are to be considered “illegitimate.”
Usually the elected bishop candidate would apply to the Vatican for approval after his episcopal election in China.
In some cases the Vatican did not give its approval, but “the fault lies not with China,” Liu said, noting that he had read the papal letter three times and found it comprehensive.
Three illicit episcopal ordinations – in the Dioceses of Anhui, Kunming and Xuzhou – took place in 2006. The Vatican issued two statements denouncing them.
“Ahead of any improvement in China-Vatican relations, we will continue our way,” Liu said.
He said, “Without the contribution of self-elected and self-ordained bishops, the China church couldn’t have achieved its development today.”
Liu added that after half a century the patriotic association still has not accomplished its historical role. It will continue strengthening its efforts toward leading all clergy and laypeople toward unity and avoiding foreign exploitation and a repetition of China’s colonial history, he said.
The patriotic association was established in 1957, six years after mainland China broke diplomatic contact with the Vatican by expelling the apostolic nuncio from the country.
Over the past 50 years, it has advanced the church in China instead of hindering it, Liu said. From now on, its role “will not be weakened, but it would continue to help the local church carry on Christ’s salvation in China.”
Since church activities started to revive after the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, he added, the patriotic association has facilitated the restoration of about 6,000 churches and the establishment of 12 major seminaries nationwide and has arranged many overseas visits for mainland clergy.
Liu disagreed with the papal letter’s implication that the patriotic association placed itself above the bishops.
The pope’s letter notes that “the claim of some entities, desired by the state and extraneous to the structure of the church, to place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community, does not correspond to Catholic doctrine.”
Liu described the function of the patriotic association and its branches in local dioceses as a bridging role between the church and the government.
“We help the government officials to understand the church and its doctrines,” he said.
Each of the five government-recognized religions in China has its own patriotic association. But the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association has informed the government of the Catholic Church’s unique feature in that its members have to maintain unity with the pope, Liu said.
Pope Benedict’s letter revoked all special faculties and pastoral directives previously granted to Chinese Catholics in difficult times and said the Holy See hopes that bishops not registered with the government “may be recognized as such by governmental authorities for civil effects.”
Liu said he welcomes this and believes it could clear misunderstandings that Catholic communities not registered with the government have about the registered community.
He said the “surfacing” of all underground bishops would be beneficial to church unity and social stability.