Vatican threatens new China bishop with excommunication

A woman shows a leaflet with picture of Guo Jincai in Chengde (20 November 2010)
Image caption The ordination of Rev Joseph Guo Jincai was carried out at Chengde's Pingquan Church

The Vatican has threatened a bishop with excommunication after he was ordained by China's state-backed Catholic Church without papal approval.

Pope Benedict XVI had learned of the ordination of Rev Joseph Guo Jincai "with deep regret" as it constituted a "grave violation" of Church law, it said.

The Vatican also accused Beijing of "grave violations of freedom of religion and conscience" because it forced Vatican-approved bishops to attend the ceremony.

China's estimated 10 million Catholics are split between followers of the Pope and members of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The association is not in communion with Rome and refuses to accept the sole authority of the Pope to appoint new bishops.

Rev Guo, who was ordained in the north-eastern city of Chengde amid high security, is the organisation's deputy leader.

'Painful repercussions'

In an unusually strongly-worded statement, the Vatican accused the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association of gravely damaging the faith.

"The Holy Father received the news with deep regret, because the above-mentioned episcopal ordination was conferred without the apostolic mandate and, therefore, constitutes a painful wound upon ecclesial communion and a grave violation of Catholic discipline," it said.

But what seems to have annoyed the Vatican most of all is that the Chinese authorities forced other bishops loyal to the Pope to attend the ceremony against their will, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

"It is known that, in recent days, various bishops were subjected to pressures and restrictions on their freedom of movement, with the aim of forcing them to participate and confer the episcopal ordination," the statement said.

"Such constraints, carried out by Chinese government and security authorities, constitute a grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience," it added.

The Vatican said the ordination would have "painful repercussions" for Rev Guo, who "finds himself in a most serious canonical condition before the Church in China and the universal Church, exposing himself also to the severe sanctions envisaged... [by] the Code of Canon Law".

Image caption There are an estimated 10 million Catholics in China

However, Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said he did not believe the excommunication would be formalised.

"There are so many followers in China. I believe the Pope loves China, he won't make such a decision," he told the Associated Press.

China broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951 but in recent years informal relations had been improving between Beijing and Rome, with an occasional visit by a senior Vatican cardinal.

But Hong Kong's Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was in Rome for the creation of new cardinals by Pope Benedict last weekend, told the BBC the latest move by China was a virtual act of war against the Catholic Church there.

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