By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Chinese authorities have detained a Vatican-appointed Catholic bishop, his seven priests, and several seminarians amid a new crackdown on the underground Catholic Church in the Communist nation, Catholic sources said Tuesday.
The priests and the unspecified number of seminarians were reportedly detained in northern China on May 20 for “allegedly violating the country’s repressive new regulations on religious affairs.”
The 63-year-old Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of the Xinxiang Diocese in northern Henan province was arrested the following day, said the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News).
The Chinese authorities do not recognize his 100,000-strong Xinxiang Diocese, but Bishop Zhang was ordained secretly anyway in 1991. Zhang’s appointment was never approved by the state-backed Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
The detentions of the bishop and other Catholics reportedly came after the diocese decided to use an abandoned factory building as a seminary. Catholic sources said they were held in solitary confinement in a hotel, where they were undergoing “political sessions.”
The Chinese Communist Party has been accused of holding these sessions to brainwash people into submission to Party ideology and give up faith in Christ.
The seminary students detained simultaneously were sent back to their families and forbidden to continue studying theology, the Catholic AsiaNews service reported.
Rights activists noted that the arrests came shortly before the annual Catholic World Day of Prayer for the Church in China established by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007.
Congregations and organizations worldwide devote this day to praying for the peace and wellbeing of Christians and others in China.
This year Cardinal Bo, President of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conferences, also called for a week of prayer “for the Church in China and the peoples of China,” Worthy News learned.
The detention of Bishop Zhang and the other Catholics also followed new administrative measures on the pastoral staff, which came into effect on May 1, rights activists said.
The regulations include specific requirements on the qualifications of the pastoral staff. Catholic bishops, for instance, must be approved and ordained by the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
One human rights lawyer reportedly called the measures “one more weapon in [the Chinese authorities’] arsenal to limit or further persecute the religious communities.”
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) condemned the policies. CSW Founder President Mervyn Thomas told Worthy News that the detentions and other actions “confirm fears that restrictions on religious communities will continue to tighten.”
He said CSW has urged “the immediate and unconditional release of these Christians, and all those detained across China on account of their religion or belief.”
Thomas stressed that the international community should raise these cases, including the “arbitrary detention and harassment of religious leaders.”
Among others recently detained are Elder Zhang Chunlei of Love Church and Pastor Yang Hua of Living Stone Church.