Security officials have detained a number of underground Church leaders from Tianshui diocese in northwestern Gansu province during the weekend.
They include diocesan administrator Father John Baptist Wang Ruohan; retired Bishop Casmir Wang Milu; Father John Wang Ruowang; as well as several other priests and dozens of parish lay leaders.
Bishop Wang and the two Father Wangs are brothers.
Local Church sources believe they are being held separately at several locations.
Since being questioned, they have been ordered to attend study sessions for four hours a day, while the lay leaders have been allowed to phone their families, the sources said.
With about 15 priests, Tianshui’s diocese’s underground community, which has no affiliation with the government-sanctioned “open” Church, has maintained a peaceful relationship with government officials in recent years.
The diocese — which has about 20,000 Catholics — split in the 1980s. It became a vacant see after Bishop Wang retired in 2003 and Bishop Augustine Zhao Jinglong from the open community died in 2004.
Father Bosco Zhao Jianzhang, grand-nephew of Bishop Zhao, is the administrator and bishop candidate of the open community, which has 12 priests.
Sources suspect the latest incident may relate to the creation of a new bishop, which was listed as a priority undertaking in a report published by the Communist Party’s Gansu United Front Work Department last year.
Due to the detentions, the underground community’s annual retreat which is scheduled to begin tomorrow has been cancelled.
Parish priests who were not detained have called on all Catholics to pray for the safe return of their leaders, the sources said.