BEIJING — A Chinese bishop excommunicated by the Vatican attended an ordination ceremony Thursday, a move likely to anger the Holy See, which looks down on "illegitimate" clergy taking part in such rites.
The ordination of Joseph Chen Gong'ao as bishop of Nanchong in Sichuan province took place with the approval of China's official church and the Vatican, which has long battled with Beijing over control of China's Catholics.
But according to a local religious official, Lei Shiyin, the bishop of neighbouring Leshan in the southwestern province -- who was excommunicated in June after he was ordained without papal approval -- attended the ceremony.
"As Father Chen was being ordained, Father Lei Shiyin was present at the ceremony," Wang Huaimao, general secretary of the state-controlled Sichuan Patriotic Catholic Association, told AFP by phone.
It is not the first time that Lei has shown up at an ordination approved by the Vatican. He also attended a ceremony in Sichuan in November, prompting condemnation from the Holy See.
Although ties between the Vatican and the Chinese state-administered church have long been rocky, they have slightly improved in recent years and both sides have agreed on the naming of some bishops.
But tensions regularly flare up when priests are anointed as bishops without prior papal approval.
China's Catholics have long been caught between showing allegiance to the state church or to the pope, who remains the highest spiritual authority in the nation's "underground" Catholic Church, considered illegal by Beijing.
While official statistics put the number of Catholics in China at 5.7 million, independent sources say it is closer to 12 million, many of whom worship at unofficial churches.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »