A Chinese official says the country plans to ordain more bishops without approval from the Holy See. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the only Catholic entity approved by Beijing, has recently appointed three bishops without the pope's consent as required by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Patriotic Catholic Association's installation of Zhan Silu as bishop in the Chinese city of Ningde Sunday spells a further setback for negotiations between China's Communist government and the Vatican to normalize ties.
The man behind Zhan's appointment and the ordination of two other bishops over the past several weeks is Liu Bainian, a Communist party official who also serves as vice chairman of the Patriotic Catholic Association.
Liu's organization has controlled the activities of China's estimated 10 million Catholics since the Communists severed ties with the Vatican and expelled foreign missionaries in 1951.
In a VOA interview on Monday, Liu said he plans to carry out more ordinations, with or without the Holy See's approval.
"We have been doing this for a long time, and there are more than 40 dioceses in China without bishops," he said. "There is no such phenomenon in other parts of the world."
However, Liu's decision to go ahead with the ordinations is contrary to church law, which requires the pope's approval for appointments of all bishops worldwide.
The Holy See recently said it foresees severe sanctions, namely excommunication, for those involved in the recent unapproved consecrations of bishops.
The matter of who can appoint bishops has been at the heart of negotiations between the Chinese government and the Holy See. China's communist leaders are reluctant to give the power to Rome, fearing foreign interference in what Beijing sees as its internal affairs.
Until recently, however, it appeared there had been progress in improving relations between China and the Vatican. The Holy See had even indicated it would be willing to move its embassy to Beijing and break ties with Taiwan, the self-governed island that China considers part of its territory. The appointment of the three bishops, however, apparently has stalled that movement.
For five decades, China's Catholics have been forced to worship in churches registered with the Patriotic Association or in underground churches. Those following the underground church face criminal prosecution and imprisonment.