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Chinese church mulling ordination of bishop

03 june 2011, 17:30
Children hold candles at the Beijing Southern Catholic Church. ©Reuters
Children hold candles at the Beijing Southern Catholic Church. ©Reuters
China's state-controlled Catholic Church said Friday it was considering ordaining a bishop not supported by the Vatican in a move likely to further strain ties with the Holy See, AFP reports.

Father Joseph Shen Guo'an has been put forward as bishop for Wuhan, capital of the central province of Hubei, said the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which controls the church in China.

"We have received the application document from Hubei, but it is still in the review stage," said Liu Bainian, the association's vice-president.

China's ordination of a bishop for the northern city of Chengde last November without the pope's blessing was strongly condemned by the Vatican.

The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong's Communist government by recognising the Nationalist Chinese regime as the legitimate government of China.

The Nationalists fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists in 1949. As such, the Vatican is one of the few states that recognise the island, which Beijing considers part of its own territory.

The atmosphere worsened when in 1957 China set up its own Catholic Church administered by the atheist Communist government.

The 5.7 million-odd Catholics in China are caught between staying loyal to the ruling Communist Party in Beijing and showing allegiance to the pope as part of an "underground" Church not recognised by the authorities.

Liu said he did not know when Shen might be ordained, but ucanews.com, an Asia-focused Catholic church news service, said earlier this week he would be ordained on June 9.

The news service said Shen's nomination was not papal-endorsed.

The patriotic association does not acknowledge the authority of Pope Benedict XVI and is fiercely opposed to clergy in China who are loyal to the Vatican.

Already rocky China-Vatican relations were shaken further last year with the ordination of Father Guo Jincai for Chengde city.

A month later, the state-sanctioned church said its bishops had elected a new leadership, adding to the tensions.

In addition to China's Catholic faithful, about 15 million Protestants worship at official churches in China, according to recent official Chinese data.

But more than 50 million others are believed to pray at "underground" or "house" churches, which refuse to submit to government regulation.

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