VATICAN CITY — Lay Catholics in China have been scandalized by priests who are ordained bishops without papal approval and by the participation of Vatican-recognized bishops in those ordinations, said the Vatican Commission for the Catholic Church in China.
The very identity of the Catholic Church as apostolic, guided by the faith handed down from the apostles through bishops in communion with the pope, “has been obfuscated by those clerics” who have been ordained bishops without papal recognition, said the statement released April 26 after a three-day meeting at the Vatican.
The commission said that in administering the sacraments and exercising jurisdiction over dioceses, bishops who are not recognized by the pope “usurp a power which the church has not conferred on them.”
Bishops approved by the Vatican and recognized by the Chinese government were ordained April 19 and April 25, but the commission said illegitimately ordained bishops also participated in the ceremonies, “aggravating their canonical status” and disturbing the faithful laity and priests who attended.
Even worse, however, was that last year, some Vatican-approved bishops participated in the ordination of bishops who were not approved or recognized by the pope, the commission said.
At the time, the Vatican said that if the bishops were forced by the communist government to participate, they would not face canonical penalties and it asked the bishops to get in touch with the Vatican.
“Many of these bishops have since clarified their position and have requested pardon; the Holy Father has benevolently forgiven them,” the commission said. The bishops who have not explained themselves were urged to do so.
The commission, which was focusing on the education of lay Catholics in China and the celebration of the upcoming Year of Faith, said “evangelization cannot be achieved by sacrificing essential elements of the Catholic faith and discipline.”
“Obedience to Christ and to the successor of Peter is the presupposition of every true renewal and this applies to every category within the people of God. Lay people themselves are sensitive to the clear ecclesial fidelity of their own pastors,” the commission said.
The commission also said the true identity of the Catholic Church cannot shine in China as long as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China — both of which are government-controlled bodies — continue “to place themselves above the bishops and to guide the life of the ecclesial community.”
Looking specifically at ways to strengthen laypeople’s knowledge of their faith, the commission recommended greater use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It also encouraged them to bring their faith to bear on every aspect of their lives, particularly in their families, at work and by “loving their country as honest citizens concerned for the common good.”
Catholics live their faith “by loving life and respecting it from conception to natural death,” it said.
Despite a serious lack of material resources, the Catholic Church in China welcomes a large number of adults into the church each year, the commission said. In fact, just days before the commission began meeting at the Vatican, the Study Center of Faith in He Bei, China, published a report saying more than 22,100 Chinese were received into the church at Easter.
The Vatican commission encouraged Chinese Catholic dioceses to develop a thorough catechumen program to prepare candidates for baptism and asked them to adopt the formal Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
The commission also discussed the declining number of vocations to the priesthood and religious life in the country and asked Chinese Catholics to begin praying for vocations.