The Vatican slammed China’s state-run Catholic church on Thursday for stripping a bishop of his title, insisting the move “has no legal value whatsoever” and the prelate will remain in his post. “The measure in question, in terms of the Church, has no legal value whatsoever,” Savio Hon Tai Fai, secretary of the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples, told the religious news agency Fides. Chinese Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai in July, with Pope Benedict XVI’s approval. He was stripped of his title by the state-backed church after announcing his split from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) during the ceremony. “Monsignor Ma Daqin remains in his office as Auxiliary Bishop of Shanghai,” Hon said. “The so-called Conference of Catholic Bishops of China, which was not recognised by the Holy See” does “not have the power to appoint or approve a Bishop, or cancel the mandate or impose sanction,” he added. Hon defended Ma, who is reportedly under house arrest according to Catholic websites, as having “behaved with admirable fidelity to the Church” as well as professing “sincere love for his country.” The state-backed Church’s attempt to oust him “creates an unnecessary division in the country,” Hon said, calling on Catholics around the world to voice their support for Ma. China and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taipei, a rival to the communist regime in Beijing. Although Beijing and the Vatican have improved relations in recent years as China’s Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain priests. About 5.7 million Chinese belong to the state-run Catholic church, according to official figures. Independent estimates say 12 million Chinese Catholics worship in unauthorised churches and are loyal to the pope.