The Chinese Catholic society is speeding up the process of selection and ordination of young bishops to better serve millions of followers in the country, a top Catholic leader has said.
Liu Bainian, vice-president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, said posts need to be filled to serve dioceses without bishops for a long time or replace older bishops in some dioceses.
There are 97 dioceses on the Chinese mainland, of which 40 do not have bishops.
"Many of the current bishops are old, with 30 of them above 80," Liu told China Daily.
"We are in dire need of bishops."
Chinese Catholics have been adhering to the principle of independent selection and ordination of bishops since 1958, when they cut economic and political relations with the Vatican.
About 110 have been ordained since 1979, most of them older bishops.
"The practice of ordaining young bishops only started in the late 1990s," Liu said.
Of the current 70 bishops, about half are around 40.
"We are quite slow in selecting young bishops because it takes time for young priests to become mature, be well trained and gain pastoral experience," Liu said.
"With more young priests gaining more religious knowledge and pastoral experience, we will certainly hasten the ordination of more young bishops," Liu said.
According to Liu, the key factor hindering an improvement in ties with the Vatican lies in what kind of bishops are to be selected.
"While Chinese Catholics want to select those with good religious knowledge and love toward the country and the people, the Vatican wants those who oppose the Communist Party (of China)," he said.
He went on to say that the Chinese Catholics cannot wait for the normalization of bilateral ties to nominate bishops.
The association has received proposals for the approval of bishops from six dioceses this year - from Guizhou, Guangzhou, Yichang, Beijing, Ningxia and Hohhot.
The Chinese Catholic Bishops College is still considering some of the proposals as "a review of their qualifications takes time".
There are about 5 million Catholic followers nationwide.