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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican warned Beijing on Thursday not to force Catholic bishops loyal to the pope to attend the ordination of a bishop who is a member of the state-backed church that does not recognize the pontiff.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Vatican was "disturbed" by reports that the government was compelling Catholic bishops to go to the ordination ceremony next week of Father Joseph Guo Jincai in Chengde.
"The Holy See would consider such actions as grave violations of freedom of religion and freedom of conscience," Lombardi said in a statement.
Catholics in China are divided between one Church that recognizes the pope and his authority to name bishops and a state-backed "patriotic association" which names its own bishops.
Relations between the two had been seen to be improving, so Lombardi's tough statement was a surprise.
It said that Guo did not have the pope's approval to become bishop and that the Vatican would consider it "illicit and damaging to the constructive relations that have been developing in recent times between the People's Republic of China and the Holy See".
The Vatican wants to establish diplomatic relations with China but Beijing says the Holy See must first sever ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade territory.
Taiwan, whose formal name is the Republic of China, has full diplomatic relations with only some 20 states. (Editing by Louise Ireland)