Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin of Kunming, who is not recognized by the Holy See, ordained two priests in Yunnan province today, raising new questions about the troubled relationship between the China Church and the Vatican.
A priest of Kunming who concelebrated the Mass told ucanews.com they had planned the ordination for the solemnity of St. Joseph – inadvertently coinciding with Pope Francis’ installation – several months ago.
“It was impossible to change the date because many relatives and friends have expected and prepared for this joyful occasion,” the priest said.
“I hope the outside world would not misunderstand. We ordain priests simply for the need of the local Church.”
During the ordination Mass, Bishop Ma led the congregation to pray for God’s blessing for the new pope so he could lead the Church to achieve unity and to flourish.
However, Bishop Ma’s illegitimate status created confusion among some Church observers.
One such observer, who requested anonymity, said it was “strange” that the Beijing government would send a goodwill message to the new pope while allowing Bishop Ma to proceed “at this important moment.” The observer called the ordinations “a sacrilegious act which splits up the Church.”
Some faithful see Bishop Ma’s act as confrontational.
“Is Ma signaling to the new pope that he and the China Church would hold fast to the independent Church principle?” one of them said, wondering if the Holy See would excommunicate Bishop Ma, as he has repeatedly violated Church law.
The ordinations, of Yi-ethnic Father Paul Yue Bangshuang from Dali diocese and Jingpo-ethnic Father Joseph Bu Shuncai from Zhaotong apostolic prefecture, took place at a small church in Ruili city, on the border with Myanmar.
The new priests graduated from seminaries in Hebei and Shaanxi provinces, respectively, and were ordained deacons by Bishop Ma last December.
Three thousand Catholics witnessed the ordination of the second ethnic Jingpo priest in China. Six priests and some laypeople from Myanmar, all ethnic Jingpo, crossed the border to join the ceremony.
This is the third time Bishop Ma has ordained priests – two in April 2008 and six in March 2012 – since 2006, when he was ordained as a bishop without papal mandate.
At the time, Rome published a strong statement against China’s practice of “self-ordination” but did not declare any canonical sanctions against Bishop Ma.
In 2010, Bishop Ma was elected president of the Bishops’ Conference of the Church in China and vice chair of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. Neither organization is recognized by the Vatican.
This month, Bishop Ma was re-nominated as a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultation Conference, the government’s top advisory body.