CHINA – Bishop forcibly removed from diocese still missing
The Director of the Holy See Press Office, Greg Burke, has issued a statement about Chinese Bishop Shao, who has not been returned since being forcibly removed from his diocese by the Chinese state on 18 May. “The Holy See is observing with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago.” The Vatican’s statement was issued in response to questions from journalists.
The Vatican-approved Bishop Shao is not a part of the state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and forms part of the underground church not recognized by the communist government. Following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, the Vatican had confirmed Bishop Shao as the successor of the Wenzhou diocese on 21Sep 2016. Since then he has been removed from the diocese or detained on four different occasions.
Bishop Shao was first detained, along with three other priests, following the death of his predecessor, Bishop Zhu, and prevented from presiding over the funeral Mass. He was also detained just one month prior to the latest detainment, from April 12-17, which ostensibly was to prevent him from celebrating the Triduum and Easter liturgies for the first time as head of the diocese.
Bishop Shao was again summoned by the Chinese religious bureau on 18 May. He was taken to an unknown location and has not been seen since. The Catholic community of the diocese and his family and friends have no news of the bishop’s whereabouts or the reason for his removal. Unconfirmed reports claimed that the bishop had been spotted in the local airport with government officials, though the claim has not been substantiated and his present whereabouts are still unknown. His friends fear the authorities are trying to force him to switch from the underground church recognised by the Vatican to the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
“In this respect, the Holy See, profoundly saddened for this and other similar episodes that unfortunately do not facilitate ways of understanding, expresses the hope that Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry,” the Vatican statement continued.
“We are all invited to pray for Bishop Shao Zhumin and for the path of the Catholic Church in China.”
Such public friction between the Vatican and China has been rare of late following of discussions aimed at improving strained relations over who has the authority to appoint bishops in the country. Complicating matters, CPCA clergy chosen by the Communist party are sometimes accepted as bishops by Rome, while Vatican-appointed bishops are not recognised by the government but are sometimes tolerated.
Bishop Shao is not the only Chinese bishop or Christian to be detained. Persecution of Christians in China varies by province, but certain provinces have seen an increase in recent years. In Zhejiang province, where the Diocese of Wenzhou is located, more than 1,500 churches have been desecrated or demolished. Churches in Zhejiang have been ordered to stop displaying crosses and Christians there who spoke out against this have been detained.
Aid to the Church in Need noted in its 2016 Religious Freedom report that overall, the situation of religious freedom in China has deteriorated even more in recent years. The country’s leader, Xi Jingping, has further consolidated power and is seeking to control all aspects of religion including the appointment of bishops.