CHINA / National

Independent ordination of bishops right for China
Updated: 2006-05-16 14:44

A leading Chinese Catholic has defended independent selection and ordination of bishops as the only right path for the spreading of Gospel in China.

"The current prosperous development of the Chinese Catholic church owes totally to China's long-term practice of selecting and ordaining its own bishops and independently managing the churches, " said Liu Bainian, vice-president of the China Patriotic Catholic Association, during an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Tuesday.
A Catholic priest celebrates mass at the government-sanctioned South Cathedral in Beijing in this April 16, 2006 file photo.
A Catholic priest celebrates mass at the South Cathedral in Beijing in this April 16, 2006 file photo. [Reuters]
"This is the arrangement of the Christ."

China now has a total of 5 million followers nationwide, in sharp comparison with 2.7 million in 1958, according to statistics released by the association.

"The development of the Chinese Catholic church in the past 20 years has greatly exceeded that of the 300 years before," said Liu.

In the history of the Catholic church, he said, a bishop can be selected by believers, appointed by an emperor and consecrated by the neighboring diocese.

"The practice for the pope to install a bishop started just about two centuries ago," he said.

In 1980, China had only 33 bishops for all its 97 dioceses, which rendered the church in a grave situation. According to Catholic traditions, a diocese without a bishop means there isn't a church at all.

The same year, a national congress of Chinese Catholics decided to continue the principle of selecting and ordaining bishops independently, which was fixed in 1958 as a dominant rule, so as to restore and develop the church as rapidly as possible.

China has ordained more than 110 bishops accordingly since 1979.

Liu said of all the 1,100 priests China had in 1980, no more than 100 are still alive.

"But as their successors, more than 1,800 young priests are now serving at over 6,000 church areas," he said. "All of them were installed in accordance with the principle."

To date, China has sent more than 200 priests overseas to get better knowledge and religious training, with around 100 already back home, he said.

"The reality has proved the bishops we have selected and ordained are qualified," he said. "We hope this may help promote the improvement of China-Vatican relationship."
Chinese priests should be pious and patriotic, otherwise, "the Chinese church will suffer."

"China will never allow the Chinese church to re-become one similar to that in the era of semi-colonial and semi-feudal society or subject to any foreign domination," he said.
A Chinese Catholic church that is not patriotic will by no means be a promising church, he said. "It will be doomed to fail if the bishops it appoints go against China's socialist system."

"That the bishops should be patriotic is the requirement of both the Chinese church and the Chinese people," he said.

"Judging from the fact that the Catholics in other countries subject to their governments, it's reasonable for the Chinese Catholics to cooperate with their government," he said.

"As a Catholic saying goes, 'what's Cesar's belongs to Cesar, what's the God's belongs to the God'," he said.

Liu also lashed out at the suggestion that China appoint bishops after diplomatic relations are established between China and the Vatican, "diplomatic things should not be taken as the precondition for religious affairs."

He said the Vatican and the United States negotiated for 103 years before establishing formal relations and, borrowing examples from history, no one can tell when diplomatic relations will be established between China and the Vatican.

"Can we wait 50 years if China and the Vatican negotiate that long? And if the negotiation fails, should we then stop the spreading of the Gospel?"

"We will be sinful before the Christ if we don't spread the Gospel," he said. "We should never wait when missionizing, that's the order from the God."

According to Liu, it's not a bad thing at all that there appeared some differences and even disputes between China and the Vatican.

"But before the China-Vatican relations are improved, the Chinese church has to select and ordain its bishops independently, " he said.

According to official statistics, by late April this year, 38 of China's all 97 dioceses remain without bishops and more than 30 bishops are over 80 years old.
"Those old bishops have to rely on their assistants to carry out diocese work due to their health," he said.

In 1958, China elected two bishops and submitted a report to the Vatican for approval but was refused.

"In the report, the Chinese church made it clearly that the ordinations were for the soul benefit of Chinese Catholics," he said.

The Vatican declined the request and claimed it would give excommunication to those who attended the consecrations.

"The Chinese church was really stunned that the Vatican gave such a reply," he said.

In order to safeguard the interests of Chinese Catholics, representatives of priests and followers from 23 provinces decided to ordain the bishops by their own, a practice that is still adhered to now in China.

Since last April, the Chinese Catholic Church has ordained the bishops of Suzhou, Kunming, Anhui and Liaoning after informing the Vatican via private or personal channels in advance, said Liu.

But Pope Benedict XVI said the consecrations had challenged his authority and threatened Bishops Ma Yinglin, from Kunming, and Liu Xinhong, from Anhui, and those who took part in their ordinations with excommunication.

"The bishops were elected by priests and followers according to democratic election rules after strict qualification appraisals," said Liu.

A spokesman for the State Administration of Religious Affairs said earlier the Vatican's criticism on China "makes no sense."

"The Chinese government had recently informed the Vatican of ordaining bishops in some Chinese dioceses but received no straightforward responses from the latter," said the spokesman.

"On the contrary, the Vatican made unfounded charges after the successful ordinations, a move that ran against the remarks of the Vatican hoping to improve its relationship with China," he noted, claiming that the Chinese government has proposed to the Vatican on putting aside the differences in a practical manner.

"The Chinese government is sincere in improving ties with the Vatican and has made unremitting efforts in this regard," he said.


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