The Vatican excommunicated the two Bishops ordained by the state-controlled Catholic church, Thursday, casting doubts on normalization of Sino-Vatican relations.
Bishop Liu Xinhong was ordained, Wednesday, at Wuhu’s St. Joseph’s Church in Anhui Province, eastern China.
He was preceded by the ordaination of Ma Yinglin in Yunnan Province, southwestern China, by the official church known as the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls cited Article 1382 of the Roman Catholic Church’s canon law, which states that "the bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur" excommunication.
The papacy subsequently excommunicated the two bishops who ordained them, before accusing China of coercing bishops and priests to participate in "illegitimate" ordination that "go against their conscience."
This marks yet another obstacle to Pope Benedict XVI’s to reestablish formal ties with the communist regime since it severed diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951.
During the ordination of both men, earlier, Navarro-Valls had said the Pope was sad to hear of the consecrations, and that Beijing’s decision was "a great wound to the unity of the church."
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials responded with a curt statement telling the Vatican not to interfere with the nation’s affairs.
"The criticism toward the Chinese side by the Vatican is groundless," a statement made by a duty officer read. "We hope the Vatican can respect the will of Chinese church and the vast numbers of priests as well as its church members so as to create good atmosphere for the improvement of Sino-Vatican ties."
Though Chinese Catholics are required to worship only at government-controlled churches, many have remained loyal to the Pope, instead worshipping in underground house churches.
In weeks before the ordination, Chinese authorities released Bishop Jia Zhiguo, who is recognized by the Pope and has been detained on multiple occasions. The bishop is still under house arrest and under closely-monitored by security officers.
Experts had initially hoped that renewed talks between the Vatican and China would improve the situation of those loyal to the papacy, whom are arrested and forced to pay fines and sometimes sent to labor camps.
With tensions flaring between China and the Vatican, many fear that renewed talks may be once again delayed.
In 2000, efforts to begin Sino-Vatican dialogue collapsed when Beijing appointed five bishops without the consent of the papacy.
Nonetheless, the Patriotic association maintains that consecration of two new bishops were intended to fill shortages and not meant to offend the Vatican.
Vatican officials remained unconvinced, as reports surfaced indicating that "bishops and priests have been subjected — by institutions not related to the church — to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience."
"We are therefore faced with a grave violation of religious freedom," Navarro-Valls commented, saying the Vatican "had thought and hoped that such despicable events belonged to the past."
The papacy also expressed dismay over reports that China may appoint 20 more bishops without Vatican approval, adding that it "sincerely hopes that there will not be a repetition of these unacceptable acts of violence and inadmissible acts of coercion."