The Chinese Excommunications: Finding Answers
Today two recently-ordained bishops in China were excommunicated by the Vatican... or were they?
Suprisingly enough, there still seems to be some confusion about the situation, and the media reports aren't much help.
The main AP story claims that four bishops have been excommunicated:
The full text of today's statement from Navarro-Valls, the directer of the Holy See's Press Office can be read here. Navarro-Valls stops, however, at officially saying that an excommunication has occured, instead he says that "severe canonical sanctions ... are foreseen." These would be the first excommunications of Pope Benedict's pontificate, and the first excommunications declared by the Holy See* since 2002, if they do actually happen:
"The Vatican lashed out Thursday at Beijing, announcing the excommunication of two bishops who were ordained by China's state-controlled church without Pope Benedict XVI's consent."
"Also automatically excommunicated for defying the pope were the bishops who performed the ordinations in separate ceremonies since Sunday, according to a provision of church law cited by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls." [More]
"In 2002, the Vatican excommunicated seven women _ including Dagmar Braun Celeste, the ex-wife of former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste, as well as women from Austria and Germany _ who participated in an ordination ceremony aboard a boat traveling the Danube River and called themselves priests. The case was among those handled by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger..." [source]But ... have the excommunications actually ocurred?
Depending on whether the newly-ordained bishops were forced into the ceremony, there is some reason to believe that they aren't automatically (latae sententiae) excommunicated:
Canon Lawyer Ed Peters has this to say:
"In the case at hand, prescinding from several other worthy canonical defense arguments, 1983 CIC 1324 § 3 says that a latae sententiae penalty does not apply to one whose actions were coerced by grave fear (even if it is only grave in the perception of that person), even if the action tends to harm of souls. The Vatican's own statement asserts what others reasonably surmised: some of these men were coerced by Communist officials into acting as they did. Now, I like to think that laws mean what the words say; thus, I cannot think how automatic excommunications were incurred under these facts.
But notice, the Vatican has not claimed otherwise.
While Navarro-Valls' correctly referenced Canon 1382, he did not state that those involved in this case had incurred the sanction. He does not have that authority, and I frankly doubt that even the Vatican would have access yet to the kind of canonically relevant information necessary to form such a conclusion. Instead, the secular media has drawn that conclusion, though in this case it's hard to blame them for doing so. Canon 1382, the only norm cited by N-V, sure seems to support it." [Read the rest]
From the reports, there is indeed good evidence that coercion took place in this situation:
Finally, it is certainly looking like this problem is going to get worse before it gets better:
"The Vatican statement said officials had received information indicating that "bishops and priests have been subjected — by institutions not related to the church — to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience."
"We are therefore faced with a grave violation of religious freedom," Navarro-Valls said, adding the Vatican "had thought and hoped that such despicable events belonged to the past." [source]
"Cervellera said the threats were likely psychological pressure to hurt the prelates' careers if they didn't agree to be ordained bishops without papal consent. "They would have ended up being a priest somewhere in the countryside," Cervellera said in a telephone interview." [source]
"Cervellera said that nine bishops took part in the ordination ceremony Sunday and five bishops participated in the second ceremony in Wuhu. He said there were indications that ordinations of some 20 more bishops would take place soon in defiance of the pope." [source]
Whatever happens, I'll be doing my best to stay on top of the coverage. Stay tuned.
* Thanks to Professor Antonio Basto for this clarification and other helpful comments.