Wednesday, September 15, 2004

China Arrests 23 Catholics

Vatican angry over wave of arrests of Chinese Catholics
THE GUARDIAN , ROME
Tuesday, Sep 14, 2004,Page 1

The Vatican has issued a strong denunciation of religious repression in China because of fears that 23 Roman Catholics -- including eight priests -- have been arrested, and some ordered to undergo enforced re-education.

One aged bishop is understood to have died in prison.

The pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, criticized China for arresting the eight priests and two seminary students in Hebei province last month.

"The reasons for such repressive measures have not been made known to the Holy See," he said. "If the received news turns out to be true, we find ourselves once again faced with a grave violation of freedom of religion, which is a fundamental right of man."

Two of the priests were sentenced to "a period of re-education through forced labor," while others, detained in Baoding diocese, had not yet been released, Navarro-Valls said in a statement over the weekend.

So far, the Vatican does not know the reasons for the arrests.

"According to the information received here, as of Sept. 6, 2004, the number of clergy members of the Baoding diocese detained or deprived of liberty is 23," including a bishop and his auxiliary who disappeared in 1996 and 1997, he said.

The reported arrests are the latest in a string of detentions of Catholic priests and bishops, some of whom run underground seminaries in unofficial churches and private homes, remaining loyal to the Vatican in a communist state which does not recognize the pope's authority.

The arrests reportedly took place on Aug. 6 at a religious retreat in a village in Hebei Province, where many of China's unofficial Roman Catholics live.

Monsignor Giovanni Gao Kexian, Bishop of Yantai, in Shandong Province, died in prison aged 76, the Vatican said.

The bishop had been arrested in the late 1990s for refusing to adhere to the Communist Party's demand that Catholics worship only in churches approved by a state-controlled church group which does not recognize the Pope's authority.

Bishop Gao was delivered to his family in a coffin with no explanation.

Since China broke diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951, the Vatican has preferred to resolve alleged cases of religious repression through diplomatic channels.

Despite the official ban on independent Catholic worship, the US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation estimates there are 12 million "underground" Catholics, compared with the 4 million who follow the state-authorized church.

Recent developments in China point to increasing crackdowns on Buddhists, Christians and practitioners of Falun Gong.

On Aug. 11, the Chinese authorities reportedly arrested Yu Tianjian, a prominent Chinese Buddhist who also maintains residency in the US.

Yu had renovated a Buddhist temple in the province of Inner Mongolia.

At his arrest, he said that he had been charged with "promoting superstition."

Falun Gong claims that more than 800 of its members have died in custody since the movement was banned in 1999.

This year, as debate has centered on China's human-rights record as the country prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Vatican has hardened the tone of its public complaints.