With an eye on China, Vatican issues new bishops' policy

June 10, 2011

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Catholics forced to participate in ordinations of
bishops without the pope's approval may be exempt from the usual penalty
of automatic excommunication, the Vatican said on Friday (June 10).

Bishops who consecrate other bishops without a papal "mandate" incur
automatic excommunication, as do the men they consecrate and all other
ministers who participate in the ceremony, according to a church
document published in the official Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore
Romano.

All of those excommunicated are thereafter forbidden to celebrate
Mass, administer or receive any Catholic sacraments, or "exercise
ministerial functions" unless their excommunications are lifted by the
pope.

Yet the council's statement allows for "mitigating circumstances,"
under which the penalty of excommunication does not apply. Specifically,
if any of the parties was "coerced by grave fear ... or grave
inconvenience" to participate in an authorized ordination, he can avoid
automatic expulsion from the church.

Although the statement refers to no specific cases, it is most
clearly relevant to the ongoing struggle between the Catholic Church and
the government of China, where a state-controlled official Catholic
church competes with an "underground" church loyal to Rome.

In recent years, the Vatican and Beijing have tacitly agreed on a
number of bishops acceptable to both sides. But last November, Joseph
Guo Jincai was ordained the bishop of Chengde without Vatican approval.

Another such ordination, in the diocese of Hankow, was scheduled for
Thursday (June 9), but was postponed at the last minute for unexplained
reasons.