It is believed that millions of Chinese belong to unofficial congregations loyal to Rome [EPA]

China's government-backed Catholic church has ordained a bishop without the pope's approval, despite objections from the Vatican.

Reverend Guo Jincai's ordination at Pingquan Church in Chengde city was carried out on Saturday amid strong security.

A papal adviser described the ordination as "illegitimate" and "shameful".

China's first ordination without papal approval in almost five years threatens to hurt the country's already tense relations with the Vatican.

Eight Vatican-approved bishops are believed to have been forced to participate in the ceremony, according to AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency that closely covers the church in China.

'Controlling church'

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Rome, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the editor of AsiaNews, said that the Chinese government was trying to control the church.

"I believe that this imprints above all the situation in China, Catholics are really upset by this move of the government which is trying to divide between those who are patriotic and those who are trying to follow the spiritual guidelines of the popes.

"I believe that China feels insecure about the situation inside because of many economic problems and because of many demonstrations against the government.

"They [Chinese government] are trying to control the church," he said.

China has forced its Roman Catholics to cut ties with the Vatican in 1951, and worship is allowed only in state-backed churches. Recent estimates by scholars and church activists put the number of Chinese Catholics loyal to the pope as high as 60 million, three times the size of the official church.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies