China ordains new bishop with Vatican's approval

A Chinese bishop was ordained Thursday in a southwestern diocese with approval from both Beijing and Rome, a sign that the Sino-Vatican relationship may be improving, the online news site Vatican Insider reported.

Joseph Chen Gong'ao was ordained in a ceremony attended by 800 as the bishop of Nanchong diocese in Sichuan province, Vatican Insider said. A report by local newspaper Nanchong Daily has corroborated the information.

The diocese — which has 86,000 Catholics, 11 priests and 11 nuns — was without a bishop for eight years and about 40 Chinese dioceses have no bishops, Vatican Insider said.

The relationship between Beijing and Rome has been tense since 1951, when China severed ties with the Holy See after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope's authority.

The issue of who should appoint bishops has been a key obstacle to Pope Benedict XVI's goal of improving relations with China. An informal understanding that gave the Vatican an opportunity to give its tacit approval on new bishops largely broke down two years ago.

Since then, Chen's ordination is one of the few that Beijing and the Vatican have agreed on.

Chinese government officials attended the ordination ceremony and urged the diocese to follow the steps of the Communist Party, the state-run Nanchong Daily reported.

Born in 1964, Chen graduated from Sichuan Catholic Seminary in 1988 and was ordained as a priest in 1990. He succeeded Bishop Huang Woze who died in 2004, Vatican Insider said.