China has appointed a new bishop without Vatican approval and will ordain him this week, a church official said yesterday, in a move likely to further set back efforts to forge better relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
China and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations. A major stumbling block to better ties has been a dispute over who has the power to appoint bishops.
Liu Bainian (劉柏年), deputy chairman of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, told the press that Wang Renlei (王仁雷) had been appointed as a bishop in Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province. Wang is currently vicar-general of the Xuzhou diocese.
"Because China and the Vatican do not have diplomatic relations, China has elected its own bishops over many years," Liu said.
"We cannot wait until China and the Vatican establish relations to select a bishop," he said.
It would be the third known ordination this year carried out by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association without approval of the Vatican.
The other appointments were bishops Ma Yinglin (
The Vatican rejects most government involvement anywhere in the world in the selection of its hierarchy, but it has made exceptions. In Vietnam, another Asian communist nation, bishops are appointed after consultation with the government.
Chinese ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power. Worship is allowed only in government-controlled churches, but millions belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
Relations are further strained because the Vatican recognizes Taiwan.
Restrictions on religious freedom in China are also an irritant in relations with Washington. A US State Department report earlier this month ranked China along with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan among "countries of particular concern" for denying religious openness.
China's Foreign Ministry criticized the report as irresponsible and said it was an unjustified intervention into China's internal affairs.