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Last Updated: Thursday, 19 July 2007, 13:00 GMT 14:00 UK
Vatican welcomes new China bishop
A mass at the Chinese Patriotic Church in Beijing. File photo
Catholic worship is only allowed in the state-approved Patriotic Church
The Vatican has praised the man set to become the new bishop of Beijing, even though he was not selected by the Pope.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, said Father Joseph Li Shan was "very good, well-suited".

Father Li was nominated to the post by members of the Beijing diocese earlier this week and still needs approval from leaders of the state-controlled church.

The Vatican's response will ease fears that the appointment would jeopardise fragile ties with China.

Pope Benedict XVI has been trying to reconcile the divisions between China's Catholics, sending a letter last month urging them to unite.

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.

'Positive sign'

Cardinal Bertone said the Vatican had not yet received any official word from the Chinese authorities about Father Li's appointment.

"Normally, they enter into contact with the Holy See... and ask approval. We hope this occurs," he told an Italian news conference, according to the Associated Press.

Pope Benedict
Pope Benedict has sought to close the gap between China's Catholics

But he said Father Li's qualities for the job "seem to us a positive sign".

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.

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

Father Li told Reuters news agency earlier in the week 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."

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