China's Bishops Choose Leaders Amid Tensions with Vatican

China's official Catholic Church elected its new leaders Thursday, in a move likely to further aggravate relations between Beijing and the Vatican.

Liu Bainian, the vice chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said Bishop Ma Yinglin was picked to head the church's council of bishops, while Bishop Fang Xingyao was chosen as the association's new chairman.

The men were picked during a meeting of more than 300 bishops, priests and laymen in Beijing.

A Vatican-affiliated news agency (( AsiaNews.it )) reported that Chinese bishops were under government pressure to attend the meeting. According to the agency, some bishops went into hiding or called in sick to avoid attending the meeting, while others were forcibly brought to the Chinese capital.

Relations between the Vatican and China already were strained following last month's ordination of Reverend Joseph Guo Jincai as a bishop, which was not sanctioned by the Holy See.

China broke off diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951, two years after communist forces defeated the Nationalists in a civil war. Chinese Catholics are only allowed to worship in state-sanctioned churches, although many belong to underground churches that are loyal to Rome.