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Publié par dominicanus

It established that without the papal mandate, they cannot govern the dioceses. The young Ratzinger was against it at the time, but soon changed his mind. It is thanks to that norm that today, as pope, he is disarming the illegitimate bishops. And defusing the schism ...




ROME, July 22, 2011 – "Bishops Or Mandarins? The Dilemma of the Chinese Church." This was the title of an article published forty days ago on www.chiesa.

Since then, in China, the "mandarins" have increased by two, at least. And still others are about to arrive.

"Mandarins" refers to those bishops who instead of being united to the successor of Peter are created and act as officials of the empire. Ordained at the behest of the Chinese authorities, without the mandate of the pope.

Since 2006, no illicit episcopal ordinations had been carried out in China, and every new bishop was consecrated with twofold approval, of both the Chinese authorities and the Holy See.

Not only that. Step by step, those bishops who had been ordained without the mandate of the pope made acts of obedience and obtained approval from Rome.

In the summer of 2010, the reunification of the two branches of the Chinese Church – state-approved and clandestine – seemed almost within reach. The bishops who remained separated from Rome could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

But suddenly, in the autumn of 2010, the harmony was disrupted. The authorities of the regime reinvigorated the two institutions with which they keep the Church at bay, the Patriotic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops. They put in charge bishops submissive to them, including some in formal communion with Rome. And through these, they resumed the installation of new bishops without the papal mandate.

The first of the new illicit ordinations took place on November 20, 2010 in Chengde, the second on June 29, 2011 in Leshan, and the third last July 14 in Shantou.

Others will follow. The spokesmen of the regime speak of about forty dioceses waiting for new bishops chosen by the authorities, no matter if this is without the papal mandate.

Tainted by these acts of grave rupture with the Church of Rome are not only the newly ordained, but also the bishops who consecrate them.

The code of canon law, at canon 1382, punishes such acts with excommunication "latae sententiae," which goes into effect automatically at the very moment the illicit act is performed.

And this is what the Vatican authorities have reaffirmed, in two statements released following the two most recent ordinations.

Prudently, however, the Vatican authorities have indicated that only the newly ordained have definitely incurred excommunication. For the consecrating bishops, they are suspending judgment until they ascertain whether they acted freely or under constraint.

But for these latter as well, until the suspension is resolved, the sanctions are severe.

In a blog posting in Chinese and English created for this purpose on July 12, the online news agency "Fides" of the Vatican congregation for the evangelization of peoples – in charge of the dioceses in China – recalled that the excommunicated bishops cannot celebrate the Mass, nor administer or receive the sacraments, nor govern their respective dioceses. Even if they were to repent and the excommunication were revoked, they would not be able to exercise the episcopal ministry until Rome authorized them to do so.

As for the consecrating bishops, until they have demonstrated that they acted under constraint, they will nevertheless find themselves in the state of "presumed imputability." Therefore they as well will be unable to exercise their episcopal ministry, and the priests and faithful will have to avoid receiving the sacraments administered by them.

If to the definitely excommunicated are added the "presumed imputable" and the bishops without papal recognition, there are now a couple of dozen Chinese bishops in a state of schism with Rome today.

The ordination of these "mandarin" bishops is sacramentally valid. Also sacramentally valid are the Masses celebrated by them. What they lack is hierarchical communion with the see of Peter. And it is this that renders them devoid of authority over their respective dioceses, over the clergy and the faithful.

They are in fact bishops, but devoid of that power of governance which only the pope can give. The declarations and instructions that the Holy See released following the latest illicit episcopal ordinations in China insist on this. 

This is a point that saw a highly charged clash of positions at Vatican Council II.

There were in fact some who held the position according to which sacramental ordination is sufficient to confer on the new bishop the fullness of his powers, including that of governance, without the need for a further mandate from the pope: that is, precisely the position that is so agreeable to the Chinese authorities today.

An active part in that conciliar clash was also played by a young theologian named Joseph Ratzinger.

On which side of the fence did he stand?


To answer this question, one must go back to the middle of November 1964, to what has been called the "black week" of Vatican Council II.

That week began, on Monday, November 16, with the unexpected reading in the basilica of Saint Peter, on the part of the secretary general of the Council, Archbishop Pericle Felici, of a "Nota explicativa praevia" desired by the "highest authority," meaning Pope Paul VI.

At the behest of the pope, the note was to be received as "explanation and interpretation" of chapter three of the constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium": the chapter dedicated to the role of the bishops, submitted for voting in those same days.

In point number 2, the note affirmed that one becomes a bishop by virtue of episcopal consecration. But in order that a bishop may exercise the "power" that has been conferred on him with sacred orders, he must receive the "iuridica determinatio" from the supreme authority of the Church.

The note raised protests from the progressives. Even the theologian who had drafted it, the Belgian Gérard Philips, was complaining two years later about its excessive "legalism," which ended up "suffocating and extinguishing the communion of charity."

Among the conciliar periti, one of the most determined in criticizing the note was the young Ratzinger, who was the trusted theologian of German cardinal Joseph Frings.

In an essay that will soon be published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana and has recently been previewed in issue number 61 of the Notiziario of the Paul VI Institute, the author, Belgian canon Leo Declerck, reconstructs Ratzinger's position at that juncture, on the basis of the diaries of other protagonists of the Council.

In order to clear the way for the note and its interpretation of the powers of the bishops, Ratzinger met with Professor Giuseppe Alberigo, a representative of Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti, who was the leader of the progressives. Together they wrote the draft of a speech by which Cardinal Frings would downgrade the note to a simple commission text and would ask that it be submitted for discussion in the assembly. At the same time, groups of bishops, including about a hundred Africans, would sign petitions to the pope. The objective was the removal of the entire third chapter of "Lumen Gentium."

But that's not what happened. The third chapter was approved by a large majority, and the note entered among the conciliar documents as a supplement to "Lumen Gentium."

Ratzinger recognized afterward that the note had had the merit of defeating the "maximalism" of the progressives and appeasing the Council's traditionalist minority, getting "Lumen Gentium" approved almost unanimously.

But he was careful to point out that the note did not bear the signature of the pope or of the Council fathers, but only that of Archbishop Felici.

And he wrote, shortly after the Council had ended, that in any case the note left "a bitter taste," both for the way in which it had been imposed and for its content, expressive "of a legal-systematic mindset that has as its standard the present-day juridical figure of the Church," in contrast with "an historical approach that would be based on the full extent of Christian revelation."

Today, a few decades later, having become pope, Joseph Ratzinger takes a more critical view of the conviction that "the Church should not be a Church of law, but a Church of love," free from juridical restraints.

He has criticized this position on a number of occasions. And with an important series of normative provisions, he has shown that he sees the role of canon law as essential in governing the Church.

If today Benedict XVI does not recognize the authority of the Chinese bishops ordained without his mandate, and also thanks to this rule "is confirming the faith" of Catholics in China, he owes this precisely to that "Nota explicativa praevia" which had seemed so unpalatable to him when it was promulgated. 

Sandro Magister


The essay of Leo Declerck previewed in issue number 61 of the Notiziario of the Paul VI Institute is entitled: "Les réactions de quelques 'periti' du Concile Vatican II à la 'Nota explicativa praevia' (G. Philips, J, Ratzinger. H. De Lubac, H. Schauf)."

It will be published soon in the volume by E. Ehret, "Papstlicher Primat und Episkopat," being printed by Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

The "Nota explicativa praevia" on the powers of the bishops is found at the end of the text of the dogmatic constitution on the Church promulgated by Vatican Council II:

> Lumen gentium

On Benedict XVI as "canonical legislator":

> Six Years on the Throne of Peter. An Interpretation

The declaration of the pontifical council for the interpretation of legislative texts published in "L'Osservatore Romano" on June 11, 2011, on the canonical effects of the illicit episcopal ordinations:

> Illicit ordinations in China: the Holy See explains what is to be done with excommunicated bishops

The declaration of the Holy See of July 4, 2011, in English, Chinese, and Italian, on the illicit ordination of the bishop of Leshan:

> "With regard to the episcopal ordination..."

The blog posting in Chinese and English created on July 12, 2011 by the online agency "Fides" of the congregation for the evangelization of peoples, with twelve questions and answers on what to do in the case of illicit episcopal ordinations:

> Being Catholic in China

The statement by the Holy See of July 16, 2011, in English, Chinese, and Italian, on the illicit ordination of the bishop of Shantou:

> "The following clarifications..."

On the resistance of Chinese bishops, priests, and faithful in communion with Rome to the illicit episcopal ordinations backed by the regime:

> Chinese Church "resists" excessive power of Government and Patriotic Association

Two Catholic news agencies that specialize in the Church in China, with continually updated news:

> Asia News

> UCA News

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

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