Beijing: China`s state-controlled Catholic Church wants to ordain at least 40 bishops "without delay", state media reported, in a move likely to further irritate already tense ties with the Vatican.
The official Xinhua news agency quoted Yang Yu, spokesman for the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, as saying more than 40 of the country`s 97 dioceses were without a bishop.
The report added leaders of China`s Catholic Church had agreed at a recent meeting that they would "strive to select and ordain bishops at these dioceses without delay".
The meeting concluded that the absence of bishops at some dioceses had "seriously affected normal operations and church affairs" there, it said late Thursday.
The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951. Beijing insists it has the right to ordain its own bishops, defying the Holy See, which says ordinations can only go ahead with the pope`s blessing.
Last November, China angered the Vatican when it ordained a bishop for the northern city of Chengde without the Holy See`s approval. Another ordination in the central province of Hubei was postponed earlier this month.
In May, the pope himself called on Catholics across the world to pray that Chinese bishops refuse to separate from Rome, despite what he called "pressure" from communist authorities.
The Vatican and China cut ties when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong`s Communist government by recognising the Nationalist Chinese regime in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.
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.