China's government-run Catholic Church plans to ordain a new bishop this month, without the Pope's approval.
Beijing selected Father Joseph Shen Guoan, age 50, as the bishop of Wuhan, in Hubei province in November of last year. Despite continued pressure from the Vatican, Beijing has announced that it will continue with the ordination.
The news agency called this a repressive action, reporting that local Catholics are upset that Shen does not have the papal mandate traditionally necessary for ordination.
Responding to Beijing's gestures, the Vatican has deemed the ordination illicit, and Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told Catholic News Agency that this represents a grave violation of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
There are an estimated 13 million Catholics in China, about 5 million of which are official members of the Beijing-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The bishop's ordination represents a rupture in Beijing's relationship with the Vatican, which has largely cooled under Pope Benedict, who has been allowed to offer quiet suggestions on appointments in the recent past.