The Vatican says it has excommunicated two Chinese bishops consecrated earlier this week to China's government-approved Catholic church, which is not recognized by the Holy See.
The statement from Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls on Thursday called the unapproved ordination of bishops Giuseppe Ma Yinglin and Giuseppe Liu Xinhong "a severe wound to the unity of the Church" and said Pope Benedict XVI was disappointed.
"The Holy Father learned of the news with profound sorrow, because such a relevant act for the life of the Church, as is an Episcopal ordination, was carried out in both cases without respecting the need of communion with the pope," the statement said.
The Vatican also warned against any future ordinations carried out without its approval.
The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association said the appointments were intended to fill shortages and were not intended to offend the Vatican.
Ties between the Vatican and China were severed after the 1949 Communist revolution.
A big stumbling block remains the Vatican's official recognition of Taiwan, branded by China as a renegade province.
Formal ties between the two sides would give some security to Vatican loyalists in China, who are often harassed and fined and sometimes sent to labor camps, according to The Associated Press.
Most Chinese Catholics can worship only in government-controlled churches, but millions are loyal to the Vatican. But the Vatican said any dialogue was at risk now.
"The Holy See has in various occasions reiterated its willingness to have an honest and constructive dialogue with the competent Chinese authorities to find solutions that would satisfy the legitimate requirements of both sides," Navarro-Valls told AP.
"Initiatives such as those mentioned above not only don't favor this dialogue, but instead create new obstacles against it," he added.