VATICAN CITY — A Vatican commission on China has expressed deep concern over worsening relations with the Chinese government.
The commission has also appealed to authorities in China to avoid steps that would aggravate Church-state problems.
The commission urged Chinese authorities not to persist in imposing new government-backed bishops who do not have papal approval.
The April 14 message began by noting the "general climate of disorientation and anxiety about the future" of the Church in China, following recent setbacks in Church-state relations.
Given the numerous vacant dioceses in China, the selection of new bishops is an urgent necessity and at the same time "a source of deep concern," it said.
"The commission strongly hopes that there will not be new wounds to ecclesial communion," it said.
"We look with trepidation and fear to the future: We know that it is not entirely in our hands, and we launch an appeal so that the problems do not grow and that the divisions are not deepened, at the expense of harmony and peace."
The message said the ordination of a new bishop of Chengde last November — the first without papal approval in four years — had inflicted a "painful wound" on Church unity.
It said the Church considers the appointment of bishops a religious, not a political matter, which falls under the pope's "supreme spiritual authority."
The message said the Vatican, while it has no reason to regard the Chengde ordination invalid, does consider it "gravely illegitimate" because it was conferred without papal mandate.
As a result, it said, the bishop's exercise of ministry is also illegitimate.
The message also addressed the fact that several other bishops, including some in communion with the pope, took part in the Chengde ordination.
Because these bishops may have been forced to participate, excommunication was not automatically incurred, the Vatican commission said.
But it called on all bishops involved in the ordination to explain themselves to the Vatican and to their own priests and faithful, to help "repair the external scandal."
The message also criticized the Chinese government-controlled National Congress of Catholic Representatives that was held in Beijing Dec. 7-9. Many bishops, priests, religious and laypeople were forced to take part in the assembly against their will.