VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said Saturday that a bishop ordained in China this week without papal approval had acted in defiance of the Holy See and was automatically excommunicated.
Amid a deepening standoff with Beijing, the Vatican issued a strongly worded statement denouncing the ordination and said Pope Benedict XVI "once again deplores the manner in which the church in China is being treated."
Beijing severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope's authority.
Faithful on the mainland are allowed to worship only with the state-sanctioned church, which recognizes the pope as a spiritual leader but rejects his authority to appoint priests and bishops. A thriving underground following remains loyal to the Vatican.
The Vatican statement said Chinese Catholics have a right to "act freely, following their consciences and remaining faithful" to the pope.
The Rev. Joseph Huang Bingzhang was consecrated as bishop of Shantou by China's state-controlled Catholic church on Thursday. It was China's third such ordination without the pope's approval in eight months.
The Vatican insists that the pope has the sole right to appoint bishops. Beijing's Communist leaders see that position as foreign interference.
The bishop "had been informed some time ago that he could not be approved by the Holy See as an episcopal candidate."
"Reverend Huang had been asked on numerous occasions not to accept episcopal ordination," the statement went on to say. The Holy See does not recognize him.
The Vatican accused Chinese authorities of forcing bishops to attend the ordination ceremony against their will, saying they had "offered various forms of resistance," though the statement did not elaborate.
The issue of who should appoint bishops has proven a key obstacle to Benedict's goal of improving relations with China. An agreement that gave the Vatican an opportunity to give its tacit approval on new bishops broke down last year.
A top Vatican adviser, Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, has called the current standoff a "war" and urged the Holy See to take a harder line against China's ordinations of bishops.