China Releases ‘Kidnapped’ Vatican-Approved Bishop
By UCA News
(UCA News) — A Vatican-approved Chinese bishop who was allegedly kidnapped by authorities more than two weeks ago has returned to his diocese, media reports say.
Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Yongjia (Wenzhou) Diocese in Zhejiang province in eastern China has resurfaced, with church officials and the faithful offering thanksgiving prayers for his return.
It is still unknown when the 58-year-old bishop was released following his arrest on Oct. 25. The authorities reportedly said the bishop was taken for “tourism.”
Bishop Shao, ordained with a papal mandate as a coadjutor bishop in 2011, had been arrested six times prior to his latest arrest. He fell out with the government as his appointment was not approved by the state-sanctioned Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA).
His refusal to join and collaborate with state-run bodies led to a series of arrests and detentions.
Pontifical charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) reported in 2018 that Bishop Shao was arrested five times and subjected to isolation and indoctrination to communist ideology. Following his arrest in May 2017, he was detained for seven months.
The whereabouts of Bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang in Henan province remains unknown. He was arrested in May with 10 priests and an unspecified number of seminarians.
In China, the arrest and detention of Catholic bishops who defy the communist regime are common. Such arrests are usually carried out ahead of important church events and feast days, observers say.
Bishop Shao was arrested shortly before All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2.
Media reports claimed the authorities in Wenzhou installed iron barriers and blocked entry to the Catholic cemetery to restrict local Christians from attending prayers and paying respect to the dead.
For decades, the governance of the Catholic Church in China had been a major bone of contention between the Vatican and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), with Catholics divided between the patriotic and underground churches.
In 2018, the Vatican signed a secretive deal with China to end the discord over bishop appointments and division of Catholics. Initially signed for two years, the deal was renewed in October 2020.
Under the deal, six bishops have been ordained and the Vatican has approved seven Beijing-appointed bishops.
Despite the agreement, Chinese authorities continue to persecute Christians, particularly after the CCP adopted new regulations on religious affairs in May 2018.
The repressive regulations require all religious groups, organizations and clergy to be approved by the state and get permits to carry out their activities.