I'm also struck by the placing of the word "illicitly" in quotation marks in the body of the article and in the webpage header. A tacit critique of the very idea? Conscious or unconscious? Who knows?
Vatican Excommunicates Chinese Bishop
By RACHEL DONADIO and ELIZABETH A. HARRIS for The New York Times
Published: July 16, 2011
ROME — A Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval was excommunicated for accepting his new post, the Vatican announced Saturday.
The clergyman, the Rev. Joseph Huang Bingzhang, was ordained as bishop of the Diocese of Shantou on Thursday by China’s state-run Catholic Church. He is the third bishop to be appointed without papal approval in recent months, putting a new strain on already difficult relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
In a statement, the Vatican said that Father Huang was ordained “illicitly,” and that he had been asked repeatedly not to accept his new position because the district already had a bishop.
“He lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of the diocese,” the statement said. “The Rev. Huang Bingzhang had been informed some time ago that he could not be approved by the Holy See as an episcopal candidate.”
The Vatican also asserted in the statement that some bishops were forced to attend Father Huang’s unsanctioned ordination by Chinese civil authorities even after expressing their unwillingness to do so. The Vatican called their resistance “meritorious before God.”
There was no immediate comment from the Chinese government.
China and the Vatican have not had formal ties since 1951, two years after the Communists came to power, when Mao Zedong expelled the papal nuncio to Hong Kong. Religious persecution has lessened considerably in mainland China over the years, but organized religion remains under tight government supervision. The official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Church has nearly six million adherents, but some experts say the number of Chinese Catholics practicing in unofficial churches is twice that.
Relations between Beijing and the Vatican have been seen as improving in recent years, but appointing bishops without papal consent threatens to undo some of that progress.
In June, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the government body that oversees the state-run Catholic churches, said it might ordain 40 bishops “without delay,” suggesting a willingness to go ahead without papal approval. The state-run church then appointed a bishop in Sichuan Province, and the Vatican promptly announced that he was effectively excommunicated.
At a news conference in Hong Kong on Thursday, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, a papal adviser, urged Vatican officials to take a hard line against the recent ordinations.
“At this moment,” said Cardinal Zen, according to news reports in Hong Kong, “it’s war.”
Rachel Donadio reported from Rome, and Elizabeth A. Harris from New York. Kevin Drew contributed reporting from Hong Kong.