Chengde: China`s government-backed Catholic church ordained a bishop who did not have the pope`s approval on Saturday, despite objections from the Vatican and comments by a key papal adviser that the move was "illegitimate" and "shameful”.
Dozens of police surrounded the Pingquan Church in Chengde city, in northeastern Hebei province, where the ordination ceremony was held for the Rev Guo Jincai. Guo is the deputy secretary of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, a government role that perhaps raised Vatican concerns.
Police let reporters inside the church after the ceremony was over.
"It went very smoothly," the association`s vice chairman, Liu Bainian, said by telephone.
China`s first ordination without papal approval in almost five years threatened to hurt the officially atheist country`s already shaky relations with the Vatican.
Hong Kong`s cardinal, who is a key adviser to the pope, had called the planned ordination "illegitimate" and "shameful”.
Communist China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
In recent years, under Pope Benedict XVI, relations have improved. Disputes over appointments in China`s official church have been avoided by quietly conferring on candidates, leading to several ordinations of bishops with the Holy See`s blessing.
However, Guo does not have the pope`s approval. The Vatican said on Thursday it was "disturbed by reports" that a number of bishops loyal to the pope were being forced by government officials to attend the ordination. It warned China that reconciliation efforts will be set back if the reports turned out to be true.
"It`s a little puzzling because it seemed they had found a modus vivendi between the two sides. This ordination is very strange," said a Beijing-based religious researcher with the University of Hong Kong, who did not want to be named because of fears of repercussions from the government.
He said more than a dozen bishops had been ordained this year with the apparent agreement of China and the Vatican.
Liu noted the same thing, and said the Vatican knew about the need for a bishop in Chengde two years ago.
"I believe the pope loves China. I believe just a handful of people in the Vatican are hindering the improvement of relations," he said.
The Vatican declined to comment on Friday beyond what it said in its communiqué on Thursday.
AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency that closely follows the church in China, said on Friday that three bishops were being pressured to attend the ceremony and that at least two hadn`t been heard from after being told to celebrate the ordination itself.
Liu had said attendance by bishops at the ceremony would be voluntary.