Wed, Apr 04, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Beijing denies detaining bishop

AFP, BEIJING

Bishop Joseph Li Shan, center, walks down the aisle during Mass on Saturday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a government-sanctioned Catholic church in Beijing.

Photo: AP

A Chinese religious affairs official yesterday denied that authorities briefly detained an underground bishop last week, after the Vatican poured water on Beijing’s suggestion that a deal on the appointment of prelates was imminent.

China’s approximately 12 million Catholics are divided between a government-run association, whose clergy are chosen by the Chinese Communist Party, and an unofficial underground church loyal to the Vatican.

Beijing and the Vatican severed diplomatic relations in 1951 and although ties have improved as China’s Catholic population grows, they have remained at odds over the appointment of bishops.

The Vatican relaunched long-stalled negotiations with Beijing three years ago, but the question of whether China or the Holy See gets to designate bishops has been a major obstacle to progress.

Agence France-Presse previously reported that Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin (郭希錦) was first detained on Monday last week for about 24 hours and then on Thursday he was forced to travel to the city of Xiamen more than 200km from his diocese before being released.

“Saying that his freedom is limited is not consistent with the facts,” Chen Zongrong (陳宗榮), former vice administrator of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, told reporters at a briefing.

Guo, a bishop in China’s Fujian Province, is recognized by the Vatican, but not by the Chinese authorities.

However, the Vatican is urging him to step aside for a prelate recognized by the Chinese government, as the two sides try to reach a deal on the appointment of bishops.

A source familiar with the details of the detention said that Guo’s visit to Xiamen was “not his choice, but he negotiated with the officials and they allowed him to return on Saturday in time to preside over Easter activities.”

Chen refuted that, saying the bishop had accepted an invitation to visit Xiamen by Cai Bingrui (蔡炳瑞), the government-recognized bishop there.

Amnesty International China researcher William Nee (倪偉平) said the international community should be “very hesitant” in taking China at its word about Guo’s freedom.”

“The Chinese government often ‘forcibly travels’ human rights defenders, prominent intellectuals, or in this case Bishop Guo, when there are major political events, meetings with heads of state, or other sensitive affairs,” Nee said.

“Beijing should ensure that Bishop Guo and all other Chinese citizens can exercise their freedom of religion without any government interference,” he added.

Asked about Beijing’s refusal to allow the Vatican to freely appoint Chinese bishops, Chen said China is opposed to foreign interference in domestic religious affairs.

“The Chinese constitution clearly stipulates that China’s religious groups and religious affairs are not subject to control by foreign forces,” he said, adding that they “cannot interfere in China’s religious affairs in any way.”

While some believe an agreement will bridge divisions between the two, others fear concessions to China might backfire on the “underground” devout, many of whom suffered years of persecution for following the pope.

The Vatican has previously accepted several bishops appointed by Beijing.

On Thursday a Vatican spokesman played down comments from a senior Beijing loyalist bishop that negotiations between the two sides had reached “the final stages.”

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