VATICAN CITY — A priest who was consecrated as a bishop in China by the state-sanctioned Catholic Church without Pope Benedict XVI's consent could face excommunication, the Vatican said Tuesday.

The Vatican's move follows a ceremony last Friday in which Rev. Joseph Yue Fusheng was ordained bishop of Harbin, the capital of the northern Chinese province of Heilongjiang, by a Catholic association endorsed by the Chinese government.

Yue's ordination is the latest dispute between the Vatican and China, which have repeatedly clashed over who has the right to regulate the affairs of the Catholic clergy in China.

"Ordained without pontifical mandate and, hence, illicitly," Yue "has automatically incurred the sanctions" laid down by canon law, the Vatican said in a statement.

Yue had been warned repeatedly by the Holy See not to accept the appointment by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Vatican statement added.

"The bishops who took part in the illicit episcopal ordination and have exposed themselves to the sanctions laid down by the law of the church, must give an account to the Holy See of their participation in that religious ceremony," the statement said.

The Vatican praised those priests and other members of the Chinese Catholic community "who prayed and fasted for a change of heart in the Reverend Yue Fusheng, for the holiness of the bishops and for the unity of the church in China," it added.

In contrast, the Vatican said it welcomed the ordination on Saturday of another priest, Thaddeus Ma Daqin, as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai — suggesting the appointment had taken place with Benedict's blessing.

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An estimated 5 million Chinese belong to the Catholic Patriotic Association, according to official statistics. However, there are more than 10 million members of an underground Catholic church.

Catholics in the underground church often face harassment from Chinese authorities. Many underground clerics have been placed under house arrest or imprisoned.

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