An excommunicated bishop took part in an ordination ceremony in southwest China on Wednesday, an event likely to worsen relations between the Chinese state-controlled Catholic church and the Vatican, which had warned against his participation.
Wednesday's ordination of Peter Luo Xuegang as coadjutor bishop of Yibin diocese had the blessing of the Vatican, a recent point of agreement in its decades-long rift with China's church. But the appearance and participation of the excommunicated bishop, Paul Lei Shiyin, in the ceremony is likely to set back relations.
Lei was ordained in the nearby diocese of Leshan in June against Pope Benedict XVI's wishes _ one of three recent cases in which China unilaterally ordained bishops. The Vatican insists that only the pope has the right to choose bishops, while China sees this as interference in its internal affairs.
The pope's spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said this week that he hoped that "no illegitimate bishop participates" during the ceremony.
But a man from the administrative office of Leshan's branch of the Catholic Patriotic Association, which runs China's churches, said Lei had participated in religious rituals.
"Bishop Lei Shiyin went to Yibin and attended Bishop Luo Xuegang's ordination ceremony and he is back in Leshan today," said the man, surnamed Yang. "He also participated in the religious rituals there."
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that China was "sincere" about improving relations with the Vatican and that recent ordinations "promote the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism."
In China, worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to the pope