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Chinese Catholics Draw Mixed Conclusions About Impact Of Beijing Bishop Ordination

ICC: Vatican approval still questionable for China Bishop.

10/02/07, CHINA, (UCANews) – Catholics in mainland China have mixed views on how the recent ordination of the Beijing bishop will impact China-Holy See relations and reconciliation between the “open” and “underground” church communities.

According to Beijing Diocese’s Tianguang (heavenly light) Web site, Bishop Li declared at a post-ordination banquet that his goal is consistently to lead his priests and other Catholics to love the country and the church in accord with the “independent, autonomous and self-management” principle.

As the prelate presided at his first Mass on Sept. 23 at Beijing’s Church of the Savior, also known as North Church, he gave thanks to God, the church, the pope and government officials of all levels.

One Catholic who attended the Mass told UCA News that Bishop Li briefly mentioned Pope Benedict XVI but did not say the pope approved his ordination. The Catholic, who asked not to be named, remarked, “I think that already means the Vatican has approved him. I’m sure all the faithful would understand.”

An open-Church bishop in China who did not attend the ordination told UCA News on Sept. 24 he believes China and the Vatican reached a consensus before the ordination was held. “Otherwise, the Vatican secretary of state would not have talked about the candidate two days after (Bishop) Li’s July 16 election and approved him so fast,” said the prelate, who also asked not be named.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state, reportedly told a press conference on July 18 in Italy that Bishop Li is “a very good, well-suited” person. The open-church prelate said such mutual acceptance has a positive effect on China-Vatican relations.

However, a Catholic media worker in China, who also asked for anonymity, told UCA News on Sept. 25 that some mainland church Web sites did not mention Bishop Li’s papal mandate for fear officials might close their Web sites or publications.

“There are no diplomatic ties between China and the Vatican,” the Catholic worker also pointed out, “so the Beijing government does not wish to see its church controlled by Rome.”

Since the papal mandate was not mentioned at Bishop Li’s ordination, an underground priest in southeastern China told UCA News he wonders if the new bishop of Beijing and other open bishops, who have received a papal mandate, will follow the pope’s recent letter to Catholics in China.

In that letter, released by the Vatican on June 30, Pope Benedict XVI asked “that legitimation, once it has occurred, is brought into the public domain at the earliest opportunity, and that the legitimized bishops provide unequivocal and increasing signs of full communion with the successor of Peter.”

The underground priest said: “How many bishops have actually done that? How about those who have not made public their legitimacy? It seems the Vatican could do nothing.” He added that some legitimate bishops in the open church who professed loyalty to the Vatican merely take their papal mandate as “a protective amulet.”

Concerns have also surfaced about illegitimate bishops concelebrating not only the Beijing bishop’s ordination but also the Sept. 8 ordination of Coadjutor Bishop Paul Xiao Zejiang of Guizhou, also with papal approval. An article in the Sept. 21 issue of the Italian-language L’Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican daily newspaper, expressed regret at their presence.

In a comment posted on a Catholic Web site outside China, a person identified simply as an underground Catholic laments the Vatican’s “soft stance” about the illegitimate bishops involvement. Questioning whether the sufferings of underground clergy to maintain communion with the pope have been for naught, the website poster asks those clerics, “Who will recognize your loyalty?”

Even so, an underground priest in northwestern China told UCA News that since the pope has approved the Beijing bishop, he would consider “surfacing” and serving in the open church.

Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world’s largest Asian church news agency (