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China revokes title of new Catholic bishop in Shanghai in fresh challenge to Vatican authority

In a fresh challenge to Vatican authority, China has revoked the title of a new Catholic bishop in Shanghai who outraged Chinese officials by immediately dropping out of the government agency that oversees the country's officially sanctioned church, religious officials said Thursday.

Ma Daqin, who was jointly named for the post in a rare consensus between Beijing and the Vatican, has been confined to a seminary since he announced his intention to drop out of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in front of a congregation during his July 7 ordination as auxiliary bishop.

The move by Ma, 44, was seen as challenging China's attempts to run the country's Catholic church independently of the Vatican.

A Shanghai church official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said the decision by Chinese officials to revoke Ma's title was announced at an internal meeting this week. He said no reason was given for the revocation.

The Rev. Jeroom Heyndrickx, of Belgium's Catholic University of Leuven, and the Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, said Chinese colleagues had informed them of the development earlier this week.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Associated declined to comment.

The Vatican does not formally recognize the association and says the Chinese church should take its orders directly from Rome. The selection of bishops has been one of the most contentious issues between the sides, with the Chinese association saying it has the right to make independent appointments in defiance of Rome's insistence that only it has that power.

Days after Ma's announcement, the Patriotic Association issued a two-sentence statement saying it was investigating violations of regulations concerning his ordination.

Ma's ordination, with the approval of both sides, had been seen as a hopeful sign that dialogue between China and the Vatican was back on track. The pope had issued the Vatican's approval of Beijing's selection of Ma to take over as auxiliary, giving him day-to-day control over the Shanghai diocese and placing him next in line after 97-year-old Shanghai Bishop Jin Luxian.

China has an estimated 8 million to 12 million Catholics, around half of whom worship in underground congregations. China's officially atheistic Communist Party ordered Catholics to cut ties with the Holy See in the 1950s, and persecuted the church for years until restoring a degree of religious freedom and freeing imprisoned priests in the late 1970s.