The Roman Catholic Church says China's appointment of two bishops without Vatican approval is "a grave violation of religious freedom."
A strongly worded statement by the Vatican Thursday says Pope Benedict was deeply saddened by news of China's clerical appointments this week.
Church officials say they have learned that Catholic clergymen in China have faced "strong pressure and threats" to compel them to take part in consecration ceremonies for the two bishops, who were installed on Sunday and Wednesday.
The Vatican statement says the pressure tactics aimed at Chinese priests came from "institutions not related to the (state-controlled) church" in China.
Because the Vatican did not approve the two bishops' ordinations, the church spokesman said, the ceremonies were "illegitimate."
Catholics in China are officially allowed to worship only at churches run by the state-approved Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. However, millions of believers belong to underground Roman Catholic churches loyal to the Vatican.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.