A long-simmering battle between the Vatican and China over control of the Chinese Catholic Church blew up this week over the creation of a new Chinese Catholic bishop without the pope’s permission.
The Roman Catholic Church said Beijing forced bishops to participate in the ordination of Joseph Guo Jincai, while China charged the Vatican with interfering with religious liberty in China.
Guo was ordained a bishop on Saturday, the Vatican said, calling the unauthorized act “a grave violation of Catholic discipline.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that the Chinese Catholic Church was independent and that any “intervention” constituted “restriction of freedom and non-tolerance.”
The Vatican had warned Beijing “several times” this year not to make Guo a bishop, it said.
Going ahead with the ordination anyway “offends the Holy Father, the Church in China and the universal Church, and further complicates the present pastoral difficulties,” the Vatican said.
It’s the first time since 2006 that China’s Catholic Church is known to have anointed bishops without approval from Rome, the Vatican said Thursday.
The Vatican excommunicated the two bishops created in 2006, and Wednesday threatened to excommunicate both Guo and the bishops who presided over his appointment.
The Chinese government subjected bishops “to pressures and restrictions on their freedom of movement” to force them to ordain Guo, the Vatican charged in a statement.
That constitutes a “grave violation of freedom of religion and conscience,” the statement said.
The Roman Catholic Church and Beijing had been working towards warmer relations since 2007, the Vatican said.
The United States expressed serious concerned about religious freedom in China last week in its annual global report on the subject.
Despite some limited praise for Beijing, the State Department listed China as one of eight countries of “particular concern” on religious freedom.
It accused China of persecution followers of the Dalai Lama in Tibet and Uyghur Muslims in western China.
Only Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants are allowed to practice their religions legally in China, the States Department said.
CNN’s Steven Jiang in Beijing, China, contributed to this report.