Chinese Bishops Open Meeting Amid Tense Vatican Ties

Chinese bishops have opened a meeting to choose top leaders of the state-backed Catholic church, amid new tensions with the Vatican involving the illicit ordination of a bishop who did not have the pope's approval.

The bishops gathered Tuesday in Beijing to elect new heads of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the Council of Chinese Bishops. Their meeting is expected to last a few days.

Already tense China-Vatican relations took another hit last month by the ordination of the Reverend Joseph Guo Jincai. The Vatican warned China that he risks excommunication for being ordained by China's Catholic authorities without papal consent.

Vatican officials also accused Chinese authorities of pressuring bishops to participate in the ceremony, which the Vatican said violated "freedom of religion and conscience" and offended the pope.

China rejected the Vatican's opposition, saying any kind of allegation or intervention regarding the ordination is a restriction of religious freedom and tolerance.

Last week, Pope Benedict called for Catholic bishops in China to be allowed to worship freely. He said he is praying for Chinese bishops so they "may bear witness to their faith with courage."

China broke off diplomatic relations with the Vatican in 1951.

The country has about 8-to-12 million Catholics, who are split between the underground church that recognizes papal authority and the Chinese state-backed church that does not.