VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Bishops in China who are ordained without papal authorisation inflict a "grave wound" on the entire Catholic Church and should not let themselves be manipulated by the government, the Vatican said on Thursday.
The Vatican issued the warning after a meeting of a special commission that studies the situation of Catholics in China, who are not allowed to recognise the pope's authority but forced to be members of a state-backed Church.
Last November, the Vatican condemned the ordination without papal permission of Reverend Joseph Guo Jincai, a member of the state-backed Church in Chengde.
For a period before that, China and the Vatican had reached an agreement that the Vatican would give tacit but not explicit approval to some of the appointments of bishops by the government-backed Church after discreet consultations.
It said at the time various bishops loyal to the pope had come under pressure to attend Guo's ordination ceremony.
Catholics in China are divided between one Church that recognises the pope and his authority to name bishops and a state-backed "patriotic association" which ordains its own.
Priests anywhere in the world who allow themselves to be made bishops without papal approval are usually subjected to automatic excommunication, or a total cutoff from the Church.
But in Thursday's statement, the Vatican said "external pressures and constrictions" in China might exempt the new bishops from such drastic punishment.
Still, it said any unapproved ordination of bishops always inflicted a "grave wound" on the entire Church.
"Every bishop involved is therefore obliged to refer to the Holy See and find the means of explaining his position to the priests and the faithful, renewing his profession of fidelity to the supreme pontiff," it said.
This would help "repair the external scandal caused" by the consecration of bishops without papal authorisation, it said.
Relations between Beijing and the Vatican had been seen to be improving last year before the Chinese authorities decided to go ahead with the ordination of Guo despite repeated warnings.
The ordination has hampered the dialogue that Pope Benedict had sought to establish with Beijing. The Vatican wants to forge diplomatic relations with China but Beijing says the Holy See must first sever ties with Taiwan.
China considers Taiwan, which has full diplomatic relations with only 20 states, a renegade territory.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller)