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Vatican Excommunicates Chinese Bishops

The Vatican on Thursday excommunicated two bishops ordained by China's state-controlled church without the pope's consent, escalating tensions as the two sides explore preliminary moves toward improving ties.

The Vatican also excommunicated the two bishops who ordained them. Church law requires excommunication for any such ordination without Vatican consent.

In a statement reacting to this week's ordinations, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls cited Article 1382 of the Catholic Church's canon law. That article states that "both the bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a 'latae sententiae excommunication,'" which means they are automatically excommunicated.

Earlier Thursday, a strongly worded statement by the Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened at the news of the ordinations, which took place Sunday and Wednesday without Vatican approval.

It called on Chinese authorities to prevent any such moves in the future, and called for respect for freedom of the church and its autonomy from any interference.

"The Holy Father learned of the news with great sadness," said the statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. "It is a great wound to the unity of the church."

According to the statement, the Vatican received information indicating that "bishops and priests have been subjected - by institutions not related to the church - to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience."

"We are therefore faced with a great violation of religious freedom," said the statement.

On Wednesday, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association ordained Liu Xinhong as bishop at the city of Wuhu's St. Joseph's Church in the eastern province of Anhui.

It was the second ordination in three days without the consent of the Vatican, which traditionally appoints its own bishops. On Sunday, China's official church ordained Ma Yinglin as a bishop in the southwestern province of Yunnan.