Chinese bishops vetoed by the Vatican

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The Vatican has excommunicated two bishops ordained by China's state-approved Catholic church without papal consent, and denounced "grave violations of religious freedom".

The Vatican called the ordinations an unacceptable act of coercion and said that under church law the two bishops and those who officiated at the past days' ceremonies were automatically excommunicated.

The strongly worded Vatican reaction shattered hopes for re-establishing relations that ended after communists took control of China in 1949. Beijing severed ties with the Vatican in 1951.

The Vatican said Pope Benedict XVI was deeply saddened at the news of the ordinations. It asked Chinese authorities to prevent similar moves, and called for respect for freedom of the church and its autonomy.

"Bishops and priests have been subjected - by institutions not related to the church - to strong pressures and threats, for them to take part in the ordinations that, because they were not approved by the Vatican, are illegitimate and go against their conscience," the Vatican said.

"We are therefore faced with a grave violation of religious freedom," said an official statement, adding that the Vatican "had thought and hoped that such despicable events belonged to the past".

Chinese Foreign Ministry officials were not available to comment. But the ANSA news agency reported from Beijing that the Foreign Ministry defended the move, saying it "fully reflects the opinion of the majority of faithful," and adding: "The Pope's condemnation makes no sense."