Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Was the Chinese episcopal ordination valid?

I almost blogged about the Chinese episcopal ordination ceremony last Saturday, but held off for lack of concrete facts and because of the eruption of another story the same day. But a line in the HSPO press release today (see below) suggests that maybe my earlier hunches were correct. So here goes.

If I were the Chinese government, I would not be so sure that Saturday’s episcopal ordination ceremonies had, in fact, resulted in the ordination of a bishop.

Quite aside from the pervasive illiceity of the alleged ordination—for which the HSPO rightly notes that excommunication attaches at least to Joseph Guo Jincai per 1983 CIC 1382—the validity of an ordination attempted under these kinds of circumstances is subject to challenge, and the adjudication of such challenges are solely within the jurisdiction of the Church (1983 CIC 841, 1400-1401, 1708-1712).

What might those challenges be? Basically, force and/or fear, under 1983 CIC 125. By the institution of Christ (nb: not the State, and not even the Church), sacraments have certain unalterable requirements for their performance. Among those requirements is sufficient freedom and consent on the part of the minister. The freedom and intentionality of any minister performing a role under these sort of oppressive conditions is obviously suspect.

To be sure, sacraments are robust things and the Church does not frequently find their conferral invalid (1983 CIC 10); but then, we don’t frequently run into modern governments still operating as if sacraments were some kind of magical rites that, when pronounced by the right person wearing the right wardrobe, mysteriously achieve their effects hocus-pocus.

VATICAN CITY, 24 NOV 2010 (VIS) - The Holy See Press Office today released the following English-language communique concerning an episcopal ordination at Chengde in the province of Hebei, Mainland China: . . . (2) It is known that, in recent days, various bishops were subjected to pressures and restrictions on their freedom of movement, with the aim of forcing them to participate and confer the episcopal ordination. Such constraints, carried out by Chinese government and security authorities, constitute a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience. The Holy See intends to carry out a detailed evaluation of what has happened, including consideration of the aspect of validity and the canonical position of the bishops involved. (3) In any case, this has painful repercussions, in the first case, for Fr. Joseph Guo Jincai who, because of this episcopal ordination, finds himself in a most serious canonical condition before the Church in China and the universal Church, exposing himself also to the severe sanctions envisaged, in particular, by canon 1382 of the Code of Canon Law. . .VIS 20101124, emphasis added.

Code of Canon Law in Chinese here.