BEIJING - China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church said Thursday bishops had elected a new leadership amid a spike in tension with the Vatican, which has criticized a controversial recent ordination.
Chinese bishops elected a new chairman -- Bishop Fang Xingyao -- of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which controls the state-backed church, the association's vice-president Liu Bainian told AFP.
Ma Yinglin was also named head of the council of Chinese bishops, he added.
The election has attracted controversy due to reports by a Vatican-linked news agency that authorities forcibly brought a number of bishops to Beijing for the meeting, while others have gone into hiding to avoid taking part.
The patriotic association does not acknowledge the authority of Pope Benedict XVI and is fiercely opposed to clergy in China who are loyal to the Vatican.
The nominations come after already rocky China-Vatican relations were shaken further last month by the ordination of Father Guo Jincai in the northern city of Chengde, which was not approved by the Holy See.
"China's Catholics have the right to elect their own bishops. The Vatican does not understand China's situation," Liu told AFP.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said during a regular press briefing Thursday that Beijing hoped the Holy See would "take concrete actions to create conditions for the development of China-Vatican relations."
She gave no specifics.
The Vatican and China have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong's Communist government by recognising the Nationalist Chinese regime as the legitimate government of China.
The Nationalists had fled to Taiwan after losing a civil war with the Communists in 1949. As such, the Vatican is one of the few states that recognize the island, which Beijing considers part of its own territory.
Liu also called on the Vatican to cut diplomatic relations with Taiwan, adding China hoped to improve ties with the Holy See.
Official tallies put the number of Catholics in China at 5.7 million, including members of both the unofficial and official churches.
Human rights groups say that those who remain loyal to the Vatican often suffer persecution, with detentions of bishops common.