VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI is “deeply saddened” by the ordination of a bishop in China without his approval, the Vatican said Monday, attacking the latest unilateral act by China’s state-controlled Catholic church in its standoff with Rome.
The toughly worded communique said the ordination of the Rev. Paul Lei Shiyin in the diocese of Leshan on June 29 is considered illegitimate, sows divisions and “unfortunately produces rifts and tensions” in the Catholic community.
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951. Worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to the pope.
An agreement under which the Vatican was given an opportunity to give its tacit approval on new bishops broke down last year.
Pope Benedict has made improving relations with China a priority of his foreign policy, but a key stumbling block has been the Vatican’s insistence on the pope’s right to appoint bishops, as he does elsewhere in the world. Beijing’s communist rulers see it as interference by a foreign entity in Chinese affairs.
Beijing also objects to the Vatican’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan, although the Holy See has indicated it is willing to move its embassy to the mainland should formal ties be restored.
The Vatican said Monday that “an episcopal ordination without papal mandate is directly opposed to the spiritual role of the supreme pontiff and damages the unity of the church.”
“If it is desired that the church in China be Catholic, the church’s doctrine and discipline must be respected,” it added.
Shiyin, who risks automatic excommunication, had been informed for some time that he was unacceptable to the Holy See as a bishop “for proven and very grave reasons,” it said.
The Vatican did list the reasons, but they are presumably linked to his role as vice chairman of the Patriotic Association, the official name of the state-backed Catholic church.