Bishops Ordained by Chinese State-run Church are Illegitimate, Says Pope

July 2, 2007 Updated: July 2, 2007

In his recent letter to an estimated 10 million Chinese Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI indicated that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association* is not authorized to appoint a bishop.

In the strongly worded pastoral letter, the Pope implied that the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is incompatible with the Catholic doctrines, and reiterated Vatican's right and determination “to be completely free to appoint bishops” who are “in communion with the Pope.” He stated that bishops “who have been ordained without the Pontifical mandate” are “considered illegitimate” by Vatican.

In the 48-page letter, His Holiness express his earnest wish to see all the difficulties solved “in the course of a respectful and open dialogue.” The Vatican said in a note accompanying the letter that it was prepared “at any time” to move its diplomatic representation from Taiwan—which split from China in 1949—to Beijing, as soon as an agreement with the government was reached.

Pope Benedict XVI noted that “the normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China requires time and presupposes the good will of both parties.”

The Pope defined the letter as remaining “within the strictly religious sphere.” He said that “it is not, therefore, a question of a political authority, unduly asserting itself in the internal affairs of a State and offending against its sovereignty.”

Note: Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association is a division, established in 1957, of the People's Republic of China's Religious Affairs Bureau to exercise state supervision over mainland China's Catholics. It is the only organizational body of Catholics in China as officially recognized by Chinese government, but is not to be identified with the Chinese Roman Catholics who accept its directives.
Pope Pius XII deplored the attitude and activities of the Association and declared the bishops who participated in consecrating new bishops selected by the Association to be excommunicated.