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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
China Church 'chooses new bishop'
Chinese Catholics at Beijing's North Cathedral - 01/07/07
China's state-run Catholic Church has four million followers
China's state-controlled Catholic Church has reportedly nominated a new bishop for Beijing, threatening to damage fragile ties with the Vatican.

Sources said members of the Beijing diocese had elected Father Joseph Li Shan in a poll on Monday.

The result needs approval from church officials, but it is not clear if the Vatican's approval will also be sought.

Last month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a message urging the reconciliation of China's divided Catholic flock.

The country's estimated eight to 12 million Catholics are currently split between the Beijing-approved Patriotic Church and an underground church which remains loyal to Rome.

One of the issues that have divided the Vatican and China is Beijing's insistence that the Patriotic Church has the right to appoint bishops without Rome's approval.


Father Li, in his 40s and priest of a church in Beijing's commercial district, was elected by more than 100 diocesan members on Monday, the Union of Catholic Asian News was told.

His nomination is being submitted to the state-controlled Bishop's Conference for approval.

Father Li told Reuters news agency that he had not been in touch with the Vatican over his nomination.

"It's up to the government to decide," he said. "I haven't considered that [contacting the Vatican], because there are a lot of things that need to be done. There's still a long time."

In his letter of 30 June, Pope Benedict made clear he wanted to push for a return of normal diplomatic relations with Beijing, which were broken off in 1951.

He stressed that Rome had already accepted the full authority of many of the bishops appointed unilaterally by the Beijing-tolerated Church.

However, the Vatican has reacted angrily in the past to the ordination of bishops without its approval. Two bishops were excommunicated last year for being illegally ordained.

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