VATICAN CITY (AP) – A Chinese bishop whose ordination caused a crisis in the Vatican's relations with China may avoid excommunication because he may have been pressured into being consecrated without the pope's consent, the Vatican said Thursday.
A special commission on the church in China said the ordination of Guo Jincai as bishop of Chengde was nevertheless illicit and had caused a "grave wound" to the faith. The Vatican says only the pope can guarantee the unity of the church through his appointments of bishops.
In a statement after a three-day meeting of Vatican officials, Hong Kong prelates and others, the commission said it hoped the Chinese government-backed church wouldn't appoint any new bishops without papal approval, although it said there was an "urgent" need to fill vacant jobs.
"The commission strongly hopes there will not be new wounds," the statement said.
The Vatican and China have no official relations and the communist government has long disputed the Holy See's instance on the right to appoint bishops. Communist China forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951. Only state-backed churches are recognized, although millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome.
Pope Benedict XVI has made improving relations with China a key aim of his foreign policy, but attempts at an accommodation appeared to break down last year with the Chengde appointment.
The commission said the future of relations "is not entirely in our hands" and repeated the pope's desire to reach an accord with the Chinese government on approving candidates for bishops.