A newly ordained Chinese bishop has not been seen since he quit the state-sanctioned Catholic association on the weekend, amid new tensions between Beijing and the Vatican, reports said on Tuesday.
Thaddeus Ma Daqin announced his split from the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) during the mass at his ordination as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai on Saturday, according to Hong Kong and Catholic media.
He told the 1,000-strong congregation that due to his new responsibilities he could no longer be a member of the CPCA, drawing loud applause from the assembly, the South China Morning Post reported.
Ma was vice-chair of the association's Shanghai branch and was a member of its national standing committee, the report said.
Ordained with the approval of the Vatican and Beijing, he was the first mainland bishop to renounce his membership of the state-run Catholic body.
The authorities immediately banned him from performing any religious duties and he did not attend his first mass as bishop on Sunday, raising fears for his well-being among the Shanghai faithful.
"I'm worried about the safety of Bishop Ma and I will pray for him," the Post quoted one member of the congregation as saying.
Catholic news service ucanews.com reported that Bishop Ma had sent a text message to priests and nuns in Shanghai saying he was "mentally and physically exhausted".
"I need a break and have made a personal retreat," he said, adding that he was at the Sheshan seminary near Shanghai.
Ma's ordination came a day after China's state-run Catholic church ordained a bishop in defiance of the Vatican.
The communist authorities dismissed protests from the Holy See as "rude and unreasonable" after the ordination of Father Yue Fusheng in the northeastern city of Harbin on Friday morning.
The Holy See had warned it deemed the consecration illegitimate and vowed to excommunicate priests who participated.
The state Catholic church has ordained more than 190 bishops, and many church members and clergymen support the practice, according to the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
China and the Vatican severed diplomatic ties in 1951 after the latter recognised the Nationalist Chinese government in Taiwan, a rival to the communist regime in China.
And although Beijing and the Vatican have improved relations in recent years as the Chinese Catholic population has grown, they remain at odds over which side has the authority to ordain priests.