BEIJING (AP) - China's government-controlled Catholic church is preparing to ordain a new bishop, and the leading candidate is a priest who lacks the Vatican's backing, potentially adding fuel to a long-running feud between Beijing and the Holy See.
China doesn't have any diplomatic ties with the Vatican, and the communist government has long disputed the Holy See's insistence that it has the sole right to appoint Catholic bishops. The Chinese church ordained another bishop without the pope's approval in November, which the Vatican later called a "grave wound" to the faith.
Ucanews.com, a news service that covers the Catholic church in Asia, reported Wednesday that the Rev. Joseph Shen Guo'an is expected to be ordained next Thursday in Wuhan diocese in central China.
Liu Bainian, honorary president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-controlled group that runs China's Catholic churches, would not confirm that Shen would become bishop. But he said that the Wuhan diocese has been without a bishop for many years and that Shen has been in charge in the interim.
"He's been elected one of the candidates for the bishop of the diocese and has been preparing for becoming the bishop," Liu told The Associated Press.
"Now that the conditions for having a bishop in the Wuhan diocese are overdue, there should be an ordination," he said. "We hope that the Vatican will agree. And we believe that the people's voice is actually God's voice. The Vatican should show their love and agree on the ordination. Then there would be no tension between them and China."
Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Roman Catholic church-affiliated Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong, said papal approval has not been given for Shen to be ordained.
"Nobody knows if he will get approved in the future," he said. "This kind of consecration causes difficulty to everybody and gives no benefit to anybody."
China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and worship is allowed only in state-backed churches, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
In recent years, under Pope Benedict XVI, relations have improved. Disputes over appointments in China's official church have been avoided by quietly conferring on candidates, leading to several ordinations of bishops with the Holy See's blessing.
However, Guo Jincai was ordained as bishop of northern Chengde city in November without the pope's approval, the last appointment that the Vatican disputed.
Ucanews.com said that Chinese officials are pressuring bishops to take part in next week's ordination, citing anonymous local sources. Liu denied there was pressure.
Lam said the "government forced other bishops to attend the ceremony" at which Guo was ordained. "I don't know if this is happening this time. It's possible," he said.