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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: NYT Article on Church in China 
18th-Jul-2011 09:31 pm
Vatican/St. Peter's
I haven't heard about persecution by the Chinese government getting much better, though I'd be happy if that were true. And pray God that no one ever sees the inside of these Chinese prisons and endure what's done to prisoners there. But I'm a bit alarmed to hear Cardinal Zen in Hong Kong use the word "war." That doesn't bode well.

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
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.
19th-Jul-2011 03:10 am (UTC)
I don't know enough about China and the contemporary Catholic history there to say anything, except that I wish I could go to the library and pick up a book about it, but:

I don't think the scare quotes around "illicitly" is meant as a critique of the concept within Catholic ecclesiology. (Off topic, but my little spell-checker in this comment box doesn't recognize ecclesiology as a word and other similar theological terms. I guess I should just add it already.) Not that I would put anti-Catholic jibes like that past the NYT, but I really think they are just trying to be precise. Non-Catholics, and actually probably a huge proportion of Catholics, wouldn't know what exactly makes a bishop have true or false authority, or how an ordination relates to the Holy See. Add to that the confusion of this area of sacramental theology ("invalid" or "illicit"?) and I really think the authors were just trying to report accurately by quoting directly from the statement, by indicating that "illicit" is an actually specific term for this situation, not just a general description. I think this way, some percentage of readers will ask the nearest Catholic, "what does it mean for an ordination to be 'illicit'? does that mean it didn't happen?"
19th-Jul-2011 05:31 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm sure you could have it, exactly. I wondered if what you described is the natural way to read this, myself, but I also can't help but notice the tendency in the Secularist mind to deny any concept of a licitness or legality beyond its own conceptions. The people who protest the Vatican's having a UN status, for example, because (aided by a colossal ignorance of history) they cannot imagine a political entity that doesn't exist on their terms, especially if it's "religious" and therefore not (licitly?) political according to their conception. (Or so I suspect the train of thought goes.) :-)
19th-Jul-2011 04:24 pm (UTC)
Oh, drama. I have to say, I was surprised by this. Last I heard, the Vatican was working hard to help and reach out to Catholics in China, even taking a less hardline position in the state-run church because of the millions of faultless individuals it hoped to reach and bring into full communion eventually. I don't know what "compromise" would look like here, exactly, but it's too bad about this excommunication.
19th-Jul-2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
From what I'd seen (and I haven't been entirely attentive on this point), it really did seem like the Vatican had been working hard at creating an effective rapprochement between the underground church that had stayed in union with the rest of the Church and the state-run Church (which wasn't sitting easily with those persecuted for so long, as is always the case, historically). Certain excommunications are, of course, automatic when Church law is broken, so I wasn't so surprised about that, although, again, I don't know the exact circumstances here, and I'd want to see better sources than I'd expect in a news article. I was more struck or alarmed by Cardinal Zen's language, which I can easily imagine would also be alarming to lots of people back in Rome, too.
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