China and the Vatican are again sparring over the ordination of a new bishop, underscoring the glaring lack of progress toward resolving the most contentious issue dividing the communist nation and the Holy See.

A statement issued Wednesday by China’s State Bureau of Religious Affairs accused the Vatican of obstructing the development of Catholicism in China by wielding the threat of excommunication over the ordination of a new bishop of the northern city of Harbin.

“We urge the Vatican to rescind the so-called excommunication threat and return to the correct position of dialogue,” the statement said.

That statement followed a note from the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome that China’s candidate, the Rev. Yue Fusheng, lacks papal approval and risks excommunication if he agrees to be ordained, along with any bishops participating in the ceremony.

Without papal approval “divisions, wounds, and tensions are created within the Catholic community in China,” the note said. It also stressed that the pope’s insistence on naming bishops is purely religious, not political, and that he was in no way seeking to interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign nation.

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