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Vatican excommunicates four Chinese bishops

The Vatican on Thursday excommunicated four  Chinese bishops.
Chinese Catholic priest Liu Xinhong (L)
Liu Xinhong, left, is ordained by China's Catholic Church as a bishop Wednesday at the Saint Joseph's Cathedral in Wuhu, China. The Vatican on Thursday excommunicated him and a second priest ordained by China.AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Vatican on Thursday excommunicated two bishops ordained by China’s state-controlled church without the pope’s consent, escalating tensions as the two sides explore preliminary moves toward improving ties.

The Vatican also excommunicated the two bishops who ordained them, saying church law mandates excommunication for bishops involved in ordinations without Vatican approval.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls cited Article 1382 of the Roman Catholic Church’s canon law. That article states that “both the bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a ’latae sententiae excommunication,”’ which means they are automatically excommunicated.

Earlier, Navarro-Valls said Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened by news of the ordinations, which have occurred in recent weeks.

“It is a great wound to the unity of the church,” Navarro-Valls said in a statement, calling it a  “grave violation of religious freedom.”

China: Criticism ‘groundless’
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials were not available to comment on the excommunications. But earlier, a duty officer referred to an April 30 statement issued after the Vatican criticized the first ordination.

“The criticism toward the Chinese side by the Vatican is groundless,” that statement said. “We hope the Vatican can respect the will of Chinese church and the vast numbers of priests as well as its church members so as to create good atmosphere for the improvement of Sino-Vatican ties.”

On Wednesday, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association ordained Liu Xinhong as bishop at the city of Wuhu’s St. Joseph’s Church in the eastern province of Anhui.

It was the second ordination in three days without the consent of the Vatican, which traditionally appoints its own bishops. On Sunday, China’s official church ordained Ma Yinglin as a bishop in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association has said the new appointments were meant to fill shortages and were not intended to offend the Vatican.

Vatican cites ‘threats’
The Vatican statement said officials had received information indicating that “bishops and priests have been subjected — by institutions not related to the church — to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience.”

“We are therefore faced with a grave violation of religious freedom,” Navarro-Valls said, adding the Vatican “had thought and hoped that such despicable events belonged to the past.”

The ordinations come as China and the Holy See try to re-establish ties that ended after communists took control of China in 1949.

Formal ties would give some security to Vatican loyalists in China, who are frequently harassed and fined and sometimes sent to labor camps. Most Chinese Catholics are only allowed to worship in government-controlled churches, but millions are loyal to the Vatican.

But the Vatican said any dialogue was at risk now.

“The Holy See has in various occasions reiterated its willingness to have an honest and constructive dialogue with the competent Chinese authorities to find solutions that would satisfy the legitimate requirements of both sides,” Navarro-Valls said.

“Initiatives such as those mentioned above not only don’t favor this dialogue, but instead create new obstacles against it,” he added.