In a nasty exchange over the consecration of the Rev. Yue Fusheng, the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church and Chinese officials have accused each other of infringing on freedom of religion, ABC News reported. The Vatican in a statement Wednesday said Yue's appointment as bishop of Harbin has not been approved by Pope Benedict XVI and called it "unlawful."
Under Communist rule, China allows only government-recognized religious groups. Foreign priests are not allowed to function in China and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which claims 5.7 million members, has no formal ties to the Vatican.
Millions of Chinese are believed to be secret practicing Catholics, members of "underground" churches.
The Vatican said Yue's elevation would "create division and confusion among Catholics in China."
The State Administration for Religious Affairs in China called the excommunication threat "outrageous and shocking." It said the Vatican threatens the Chinese Catholic Church and the church outside China.