BEIJING (AP) - China on Thursday ordained a new bishop in its state-approved Catholic church, a move that could aggravate efforts to improve relations with the Vatican.
Wang Renlei, vicar-general of the Xuzhou diocese in the eastern province of Jiangsu, was ordained in a ceremony that lasted for two hours and was attended by about 1,000 people, said Liu Bainian, deputy chairman of the government-backed Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
"The former Xuzhou bishop is over 90 years old. They need a new, younger bishop," Liu said in a telephone interview after the ordination was finished. "This is the holy order and shouldn't be disturbed."
China's ties with the Vatican were broken in 1951 after the communists took power.
One major stumbling block for the resumption of formal relations is a dispute over who has the power to appoint bishops. The Vatican has said it wants the final say on appointments but is willing to listen to China's opinion. Beijing, however, doesn't appear ready to give up control of the issue.
"It should not and will not hurt the relations between China and the Vatican," Liu said. "Wang's ordination has gone through all the proper processes. He is fully supported by the Xuzhou diocese. So he deserves it."
AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, said Xuzhou's current bishop, Qian Yurong, "is one of the few bishops of the official Church who has not sought reconciliation with the Pope and ... is well known for his pro-government positions."
Wang, 37, "was ordained to the priesthood in 1996 and is known as an easy-going person who is very timid toward the government," the agency said.
Relations between China and the Vatican have been further strained because the Holy See recognizes Taiwan, Beijing's rival. The communist mainland claims Taiwan as part of its territory and refuses to have relations with any nation that recognizes the self-governed island's popularly elected government.
Wang's ordination would be the third known one carried out this year by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association without approval of the Vatican.
The other appointments were Bishops Ma Yinglin in the southwestern city of Kunming and Liu Xinhong in Wuhu in the central province of Anhui.
China's government bars Catholics from having contact with the Vatican and allows worship only in government-monitored churches. Millions remain loyal to the pope and worship in secret, but priests and members of their congregations are frequently detained and harassed.
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