Chinese bishop arrested, priests not found two months later
Two months after Chinese police arrested a Vatican-approved bishop, 10 priests and an unknown number of seminarians for violating religious rules, their fate and location remain unknown, prompting a Christian rights group to express concerns for their safety.
Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang in Henan Province was arrested on May 21, a day after police arrested priests and seminarians for allegedly violating the country’s repressive new regulations on religious affairs.
The arrests came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary and assigned priests for religious training, media reported.
International Christian Concern (ICC), a United States-based Christian group that monitors the persecution of Christians around the world, issued a statement on July 16 calling for the release of the bishop, priests and seminarians.
Earlier, the ICC reported that those arrested were subjected to “political lessons” which are brainwashing sessions designed to instill the principles of religious freedom granted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Bishop Zhang, 63, has headed the diocese since 1991 following his secret ordination, but has faced constant pressure from the Chinese authorities and has been banned from performing his duties as bishop.
Renewed crackdown aims to end underground church by criminalizing and arresting its clergy
The diocese, created by the Vatican in 1945, has never been recognized by the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
Dioceses headed by Vatican approved bishops are part of the underground church.
In September 2018, the Vatican-China Agreement was signed for two years with the aim of unifying the Catholic Church in China with the world Church. It was renewed for two more years in 2020, but there has been an increase in persecution against the underground church, according to local Catholics.
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The renewed crackdown aims to end the underground church by criminalizing and arresting its clergy while working outside state-approved church bodies, they say. This year, Open Doors, an international Christian charity, ranked China among the 20 countries where Christians face the most severe forms of persecution.
Since the deal was reached, the Vatican has approved seven Beijing-appointed bishops, while the state-sanctioned church has approved and installed five Vatican-appointed bishops.
However, Bishop Zhang and the Xinxiang Diocese have not been recognized by Chinese authorities.
The media reported that Bishop Zhang was repeatedly arrested for alleged rule violations, but was later released. However, he was not allowed to oversee the finances and resources of the diocese. In 2010, the government appointed an administrator to lead the diocese who reports directly to state authorities.
The arrests came less than a year after authorities in Xinxiang closed Catholic schools and kindergartens in accordance with the CCP’s ban on education by religious groups.
The repressive new regulations on religious affairs, which came into effect in May, stipulate that Catholic bishops must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
It also demands that the clergy support the CCP leadership and regularly request recertification to perform their duties. The clergy are allowed to conduct religious activities, including seminars, only in institutions registered and controlled by the government.
May your situation return quickly to normal and worthy of the greatness of your country
The arrests in Xinxiang have sparked shock and condemnations around the world.
French Catholic bishops last month expressed “deep concern” over the arrests.
“May God give you the strength to resist. May your situation quickly return to normal and to the size of your country, ”Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the bishops’ conference of France, declared in a statement.
The prelate addressed to Bishop Zhang and his colleagues “the fraternal greetings of the Catholics of France” and strongly denounced the imprisonment as “a particularly hard and unjust test”.
Katharina Wenzel-Teuber, Chinese expert and editor-in-chief of a church-run publication China today in Bonn, Germany, also condemned the detentions.
“While in previous years the Communist authorities tolerated religious who were not officially recognized by the Communist government, they repressed them more and more. Since the new decree came into effect on May 1, priests who are members of the Chinese underground church have come under heavy pressure to register with the official state-recognized patriotic church, ”she said. to KNA, the German Catholic news agency.