Catholic ordination in China is to come under the authority of the government, after two state-controlled Catholic organisations endorsed new plans.
The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the bishop's conference said, after meeting on February 25, that they will only ordain bishops "under the leadership of the government" and convert unregistered clergy to the Open Church, according to UCA news.
The Open Church requires members to join the Patriotic Association, which is a lay government-controlled organisation that oversees the state-church. This has led many underground church leaders to refuse to join for fear of government interference.
The meeting, held in Beijing, was convened by Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin, a bishop ordained by the Chinese government. It hosted officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) and the Communist Party's United Front Work Department, which controls all official religious activity in China.
These two bodies are also preparing for an upcoming national Catholic congress expected sometime this year, run by SARA.
The most recent national congress was held in 2010. It led to an illicit bishop (ordained by the Chinese authorities rather than the Vatican) being elected chairman of the bishops' conference and a freezing of China-Vatican relations, as the government forced bishops to partake in eucharist with illicit bishops.
Commenting on the situation at the time, the Vatican said these actions "manifest a repressive attitude with regard to the exercise of religious liberty, which it was hoped had been consigned to the past in present-day China".
Condemning the power of ordination coming under the authority of the Chinese government, Christian persecution organisation International Christian Concern said: "China is attempting to control Christianity in two ways; demolishing the Christian image and arresting leaders and manipulating them through a government run church."
In the last two years, officials in Zhejiang province on China's east coast have removed more than 1,200 crosses from churches and many church buildings have been destroyed. A number of pastors and human rights lawyers have also been imprisoned. Pastor Bao Guohua and his wife Xing Wenxiang, who resisted cross removals, were sentenced to 14 years in jail and his wife to 12 years last week.