Vatican criticizes ordination of bishops in China

The Vatican on Thursday denounced the ordinations of bishops by China's state-approved Catholic church, calling them despicable acts of coercion that hinder dialogue between the Vatican and Beijing.

A Vatican statement said the ordinations, which took place Sunday and Wednesday without Vatican approval, were a grave violation of religious freedom and that Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened at the news.

It called on Chinese authorities to prevent any such moves in the future, and called for respect for freedom of the church and its autonomy.

"The Holy Father learned of the news with great sadness," said the statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "It is a great wound to the unity of the church."

According to the statement, the Vatican 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," said the statement, adding the Vatican "had thought and hoped that such despicable events belonged to the past."

On Wednesday, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association ordained Liu Xinhong as bishop at the city of Wuhu's St. Joseph's Church in the eastern province of Anhui.

It was the second ordination in three days without the consent of the Vatican, which traditionally appoints its own bishops. On Sunday, China's official church ordained Ma Yinglin as a bishop in the southwestern province of Yunnan.

China and the Holy See have been trying to re-establish ties that ended after communists took control of China in 1949.

Most Chinese Catholics now are only allowed to worship in government-controlled churches, but millions are loyal to the Vatican. Those followers are frequently harassed, fined and sometimes sent to labor camps.

Formal ties between Beijing and the Holy See would give Vatican loyalists in China some security, reports the AP.

I.L.