(RNS) Stepping up a protracted confrontation with the Vatican, China’s state-run Catholic church on Wednesday (June 29) ordained a bishop without the approval of Pope Benedict XVI just three days after police arrested the pope’s choice for bishop of another Chinese diocese.
The Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained as bishop of Leshan. According to the Vatican-affiliated Asia News service, the seven bishops who ordained Lei included the president of the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
For more than half a century, China’s 12 million to 15 million Catholics have been divided between the CPCA and an “underground” church of Catholics loyal to the pope.
In recent years, the Vatican and Beijing have tacitly agreed on a number of bishops acceptable to both sides. For example, all seven bishops who celebrated Wednesday’s ordination had been approved by both the Vatican and the CPCA.
But last November, Joseph Guo Jincai was ordained the bishop of Chengde without papal approval; last week (June 23), a CPCA spokesman said the state-run church planned to ordain more than 40 new bishops “without delay.”
On Sunday, police in Handan arrested the Rev. Joseph Sun Jigen, whose Vatican-approved ordination as coadjutor (designated successor) bishop of the diocese had been scheduled for Wednesday. According to Asia News, his appointment had been “recognized” by the CPCA.
The Vatican recently reiterated that 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, unless they were “coerced” to participate.