Vatican City The Vatican lashed out Thursday at Beijing, announcing the excommunication of two bishops who were ordained by China's state-controlled church without Pope Benedict XVI's consent.
Benedict's first major political clash since his election as pontiff a year ago dimmed hopes for any re-establishment soon of official ties between the Holy See and Beijing that ended after communists took control of China in 1949.
Also automatically excommunicated for defying the pope were the bishops who performed the ordinations in ceremonies since Sunday, according to a provision of church law cited by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls.
Benedict learned about the defiant ordinations "with great sadness," Navarro-Valls said. "It is a great wound to the unity of the church."
The Vatican said that according to its information, "bishops and priests have been subjected - by institutions outside the church - to strong pressures and threats, in order for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience."
Navarro-Valls said some prelates refused, while some others "could not do anything else but submit : with great inner suffering."
"We are therefore faced with a grave violation of religious freedom," he said, adding that the Vatican "had thought and had hoped that such deplorable episodes belonged to the past."
Likely compounding the Vatican's bitterness was a recent overture by the Holy See toward Beijing in hopes of removing a serious obstacle to restoring ties with China - the Vatican's diplomatic relations with Taiwan, mainland China's rival.
Earlier this spring, the Vatican's foreign minister confirmed it was ready to move its embassy from Taiwan, saying the "time is ripe" for the Holy See and Beijing to establish diplomatic relations.
The ANSA news agency reported from Beijing that the Chinese Foreign Ministry defended the move by the state-approved church, saying it "fully reflects the opinion of the majority of faithful."