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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Vatican said on Saturday, bringing relations between the Vatican and Beijing to a new low.
In a statement branding Thursday's ordination illegitimate, the Vatican said Pope Benedict "deplores" the way communist authorities are treating Chinese Catholics who want to remain faithful to Rome instead of to the state-backed Church.
China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church ordained Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop in Shantou city in southern Guangdong province on Thursday despite warnings he would not be recognized because the city has a Vatican-approved bishop.
"Consequently, the Holy See does not recognize him ... and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of diocese," the Vatican said.
Chinese Catholics, believed to number between 8 million and 12 million, are divided between those who are members of the Church backed by the Communist Party and those loyal to the pope.
In its statement, the Vatican said Beijing authorities had coerced some bishops loyal to the Holy See to attend the ordination service against their will and praised them for trying to resist.
A source in China said last week the bishops were accompanied to the event by police.
The Vatican demanded that Catholics in China be given the right to act freely and remain loyal to the pope.
"The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible," it said.
Huang was the third bishop to be ordained without Vatican approval in recent months, but the build-up ratcheted up tensions.
Priests anywhere in the world who allow themselves to be made bishops without papal approval -- and the bishops who perform the ordinations -- are subject to automatic excommunication, or a total cutoff from the Church.
Relations between Beijing and the Vatican had been seen to be improving last year before the recent string of ordinations.
The Vatican says it is willing to start talks with China aimed at Beijing recognizing the Church's autonomy in its internal affairs and forge diplomatic relations.
But China says Beijing must first sever ties with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade territory.
The Vatican is among some 20 states that still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Additional reporting by Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Editing by Peter Cooney