China Names New Bishop With Papal Approval

China's official Roman Catholic church named a new bishop Sunday — reportedly with papal approval — as Beijing rejected Vatican criticism of the unauthorized ordination of two other bishops.

The Rev. Paolo Pei Junmin was named assistant bishop of Shenyang, the biggest city in China's northeast, said Liu Bainian, deputy chairman of the official church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which has no ties to Rome.

Liu told The Associated Press the Chinese church had no contact with the Vatican ahead of the ordination. But the Vatican-affiliated AsiaNews agency said Pei was endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI. The Vatican said Sunday it had no comment on Pei's appointment.

China's ordination of two bishops last week without the pope's approval angered the Vatican, which warned that those who took part might face excommunication. The clash set back Benedict's efforts to reach out to Beijing in hopes of forming official relations.

China's Catholics were forced to cut ties to the Vatican after the 1949 communist revolution. But the Holy See and China's church communicate informally and most Chinese bishops have received papal endorsement.

On Sunday, Hong Kong Cable TV showed Pei emerging from Shenyang's Nanguan Cathedral after his ordination dressed in a gold robe and a white miter, a bishop's distinctive pointed hat. Worshippers outside the church watched the ceremony on a large television screen and sang hymns.

Pei, speaking during the ceremony, said he would lead his diocese in "protecting the nation's territorial integrity, social stability and unity." The comments echoed the government's position on the church role in promoting official policy.

The ordination was attended by clergy from the United States, Germany, South Korea and Taiwan, Hong Kong's TVB reported.

Also Sunday, the State Administration of Religious Affairs defended the earlier ordinations, saying Beijing informed the Vatican in advance but got no response — an apparent reference to their practice of agreeing on bishops through unofficial contacts.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement rejecting the criticism as unfounded, while the religious agency said it "ran against" the Vatican's desire for better relations.

Chinese church leaders recognize the pope as their spiritual leader and have sent priests to Rome to learn new religious doctrine.

But Beijing says it will not allow official contact until the Vatican breaks diplomatic ties with Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory, and pledges not to interfere in the selection of clergy and bishops.

The Vatican rejects most government involvement in the selection of church figures. But in Vietnam, another Asian communist nation, bishops are appointed after consultation with the government.

"Relations were improving all along. ... These two recent ordinations were a big step backward," said Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong, a Chinese territory where the Catholic church is allowed to maintain direct ties with Rome.

"Both sides are still talking with sincerity," Zen said in comments on Hong Kong TV. "I hope they keep talking. I hope these incidents become history and don't happen again."

A State Department report last week ranked China among eight "countries of particular concern" that deny religious openness.

Beijing on Saturday criticized the report as irresponsible and said it could harm U.S.-Chinese ties.