VATICAN CITY (CNS) — No matter what the motivation or how seriously threatened one may believe the Catholic Church in China is, the ordination of bishops without a mandate from the pope is a serious violation of church law, the Vatican said.

“In recent weeks, there has been a series of reports regarding some episcopal ordinations conferred without papal mandate of priests of the unofficial community of the Catholic Church in continental China,” said a statement Nov. 7 from Greg Burke, director of the Vatican press office.

“The Holy See has not authorized any ordination, nor has it been officially informed of such events,” Burke said. “Should such episcopal ordinations have occurred, they would constitute a grave violation of canonical norms.”

In mid-October, ucanews.com, an Asian Catholic news agency, reported that “Father Paul Dong Guanhua from Zhengding in northern Hebei province” announced during a Mass in May that he had been ordained secretly as a bishop. In September, amid reports that the Vatican was holding talks with China’s communist government, Father Dong began appearing in public dressed as a bishop, wearing a miter and carrying a pastoral staff.

In an exclusive interview with ucanews.com, “Father Dong denied rumors that he has in turn ordained Father Wang Chengli, apostolic administrator of Heze in eastern Shandong province, or that there are five more self-styled bishops who do not have papal or government recognition.”

However, the agency reported, “Father Dong did admit that he ordained a 51-year-old bishop on Sept. 7 this year.” He added that it was too dangerous to reveal the new bishop’s name because of government surveillance.

Ucanews.com described Father Dong as a member of China’s underground Catholic community, which refuses to acknowledge or collaborate with the government-affiliated Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

“Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding, who is approved by the Vatican but not recognized by the government, announced in a statement on Sept. 13 that Father Dong has incurred automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See according to canon law article 1382 for accepting episcopal consecration without papal approval,” ucanews.com reported.

It said Father Dong and his supporters believe the ordination is valid because of the persecution faced by the Catholic community.

In his statement, Burke said: “The Holy See hopes that such reports (of ordinations) are baseless. If not, it will have to await reliable information and sure documentation before adequately evaluating the cases. However, it is reiterated that it is not licit to proceed with any episcopal ordination without the necessary papal mandate, even by appealing to particular personal beliefs.”

In early October, returning from a trip to Georgia and Azerbaijan, Pope Francis told reporters that some contacts have been made with the Chinese government, but they were proceeding “slowly.”

The British news agency Reuters reported in late October that Vatican and Chinese officials were meeting with the hope of finalizing an agreement on the ordination of bishops approved both by the government and by the pope and that the Vatican would recognize at least four bishops originally named by the Patriotic Association, but not the Vatican.

The Wall Street Journal Nov. 6 ran an article quoting Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, who said such a deal would amount to making the church “totally subservient to an atheist government.”