Potential Catholic leader emerges A controversial mainland bishop, whose unilateral ordination fuelled a fierce row between Beijing and the Vatican, is one of the frontrunners to lead the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, an informed source said yesterday. Bishop Joseph Ma Yinglin , from Yunnan's Kunming diocese , was in the running to fill the chairmanship left vacant by the death of Beijing bishop Michael Fu Tieshan in April, along with Bishop John Fang Xingyao from Linyi in Shandong province , the source said. The selection of the next leader of the association - the agency that oversees the government-sanctioned church, but has been criticised by Pope Benedict as incompatible with church doctrine - would not take place until after the annual meetings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in March, the source said. Last year's ordination of Bishop Ma, 42, prompted an angry response from the Vatican because the ceremony went ahead without papal blessing. Bishop Ma has yet to receive recognition from the Vatican. Two other bishops, Joseph Liu Xinhong from Anhui and Wang Renlei from Jiangsu's Xuzhou diocese, were unilaterally ordained last year despite repeated protests from the Holy See, even as Beijing and the Vatican were in talks to normalise diplomatic relations. The ordination of mainland bishops has been a major source of tension between Beijing and Rome because both sides insist they should have the authority to appoint a candidate. Bishop Fang's ordination in 1997 received the blessing of Beijing and the Vatican. Analysts said the choice of the two bishops was not surprising given their official credentials with the government-backed church. Bishop Ma is a deputy chairman of the patriotic association and the secretary general of the Council of Catholic Bishops, the country's equivalent of the Episcopal conference but without the Holy See's recognition. Bishop Fang is a deputy chairman of the Council of Catholic Bishops. Anthony Lam Sui-ki, a specialist on mainland church affairs from Hong Kong's Holy Spirit Study Centre, said Bishop Ma's prospects were boosted by his close working relationship with Liu Bainian , the outspoken deputy chairman of the patriotic association. 'The real power of the patriotic association actually lies in Mr Liu's hands, so it doesn't really matter who is the next chairman,' he said. 'It would be hard for the association to look around for more candidates because it has been described as incompatible with church doctrine in the Pope's letter [in July]. Not many people would want to serve the association.' Mr Liu is the most visible figure in the association, speaking on many occasions on its behalf. He has also been described as a major opponent of normalised Sino-Vatican ties. Mr Lam said that the choice between the two bishops was not likely to evoke major concern from the Vatican because a more important issue would be how to properly fold the organisation. 'For the Vatican, it makes no difference who will become the next chairman because the patriotic association is an unnecessary and harmful organisation,' he said. The Vatican has been pushing to rebuild diplomatic ties with Beijing that were severed in 1951. Most bishops ordained this year have received the Pope's blessing.