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Report: Pope OKs China Bishop Ordination

May 6, 2006

VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A Chinese bishop will be ordained Sunday with the approval of the Pope after two were consecrated this week without the pontiff’s consent, a Vatican-affiliated news agency reported Saturday.

The Rev. Paolo Pei Junmin will be made coadjutor bishop of the Shenyang diocese in northeast China at a ceremony Sunday morning in the city’s cathedral, the Rome-based AsiaNews agency reported.

AsiaNews quoted a Vatican official as saying Pei was considered an ``excellent candidate″ by Rome and had Pope Benedict XVI’s approval.

The ordination follows the consecrations this week of two Chinese bishops who were not approved by the pope. The ordinations prompted a strong reaction from the Vatican, which said they warranted automatic excommunication for the bishops and the men who ordained them, although it conceded that the prelates may have been pressured by China’s government-run church into accepting the appointments.

Canon law experts said such pressure may constitute a mitigating factor that could nullify or lessen any penalty if the pope were to proceed with a formal excommunication process.

The Vatican press office said it had no comment on the AsiaNews report, although officials noted the agency is reliable.

Official ties between the Holy See and Beijing were severed after communists took control of China in 1949. While Benedict has reached out to Beijing in hopes of restoring ties, the ordinations this week set back the efforts.

China on Saturday denounced a U.S. report critical of Beijing’s policies on religious freedom, calling the assessment irresponsible and harmful to relations between the two countries.

The report released this week by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said the Chinese government ``continues to engage in systematic and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.″

Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, condemned as ``irresponsible″ the 250-page report, which also includes sections on North Korea, Nigeria and Afghanistan.

``It shows ... ignorance and prejudice,″ Liu said in a statement released by the ministry.

``The Chinese government protects its citizens’ freedom of religious beliefs according to law and Chinese citizens fully enjoy religious freedom according to law,″ he said. ``This is a fact obvious to everyone.″

China’s communist authorities allow worship only in state-monitored churches, temples or mosques. Millions of believers attend unauthorized services, often in private homes, but are subject to arrest and harassment.

After coming to power, the communists set up a state-backed Catholic church outside the Vatican’s authority, forcing Catholics to divide their loyalties.

The ordinations of the two bishops this week _ Ma Yinglin in the city of Kunming and Liu Xinhong in the city of Wuhu _ broke with a low-key practice in recent years that had the Vatican and Beijing settling on candidates through back-channel communications. Most of China’s bishops in the authorized church are believed to have received Vatican approval.

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