BEIJING, May 7 (Reuters) China is expected to appoint an assistant bishop with papal blessing today, just days after Pope Benedict condemned the unilateral ordination of two bishops by Beijing.
Father Paul Pei Junmin, 37, is scheduled to be consecrated an assistant bishop at a Catholic church in Shenyang, capital of the northeastern province of Liaoning, Liu Bainian, a vice-chairman of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, told Reuters.
Jin Peixian, the 80-year-old bishop of Shenyang, is due to preside over the consecration, said Liu, who often speaks for the state-controlled church.
The Rome-based AsiaNews service quoted a Vatican source as saying Pei had the Pope's approval and was ''an excellent candidate from all points of view''.
AsiaNews added that it was ''very important'' that the appointment of Pei had been approved by the Vatican.
Beijing and the Vatican severed ties after the 1949 Communist takeover in China and subsequent crackdown on religion. Beijing has since traditionally refused to allow the Vatican to appoint bishops and let Catholics recognise the authority of the Pope, saying it would be interference in its internal affairs.
But in recent years, Beijing and the Holy See warily exploring normalisation of ties came to an understanding that usually allows prospective priests and bishops to seek Vatican approval before taking up posts in the church.
The Vatican and the Chinese government could not immediately be reached for comment. Chinese state media have made no mention of the scheduled consecration.
In a move that threatened to undermine rapprochement efforts, China consecrated a bishop in Wuhu in the eastern province of Anhui and another in Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan in the past week, drawing unusually harsh criticism from the Holy See and Pope Benedict himself.
There are some 10 million Catholics in China, divided between an ''underground'' church loyal to the Holy See and the state-approved church that respects the Pope as a spiritual figurehead but rejects effective papal control.
REUTERS SY ND0912