World

China Arrests Top Bishop Of The Country’s Underground Church

REUTERS/Venus Wu

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter

Chinese authorities have reportedly detained a Catholic bishop who is central to China’s deal with the Vatican and a top leader in China’s underground church.

Chinese police kidnapped Msgr. Vincent Guo Xijin, the underground bishop of Mindong, and the chancellor of the diocese, Fr. Xu, on Monday night at the beginning of Holy Week, according to AsiaNews.

Guo is at the center of a deal between the Vatican and Beijing to settle the decades-long dispute over who has authority to appoint bishops in China. The Holy See asked Guo, and another bishop of the underground church to step down so that two government approved bishops could take over their positions as part of the deal.

“It’s very curious that this has happened precisely in the diocese where they are putting in place this famous deal,” Rev. Bernardo Cervellera, editor-in-chief of AsiaNews, said of Guo’s kidnapping to The Associated Press.

Guo had agreed to the Vatican’s request to step down as bishop and to become the auxiliary bishop of Mindong. The Vatican has thus far hammered out a deal with Beijing that includes not only Guo and another underground bishop stepping down, but also the Vatican’s recognition of seven government approved bishops, one of whom the Vatican previously excommunicated and all of whom were consecrated without Papal authority. In return, Beijing would recognize about 20 bishops appointed by the Vatican and 40 bishops appointed in the underground church. Beijing would also recognize the Pope’s authority to veto any name they put forward for appointment as bishop in the future.

Negotiations are ongoing and Beijing has yet to sign any deal with the Vatican. An unnamed Vatican official who spoke with AP on condition of anonymity said that deal in its current form was not a good one for the Holy See, but it was the best for which they could hope for the present. The Vatican’s eagerness to reach a deal with Beijing is due largely to the Holy See’s desire to unite the underground and official Catholic churches in China.

Members of China’s underground church and official Catholic leaders, like Cardinal Joseph Zen who is the former bishop of Hong Kong, have denounced the plan, saying that it betrays the Catholic faithful in China and subjects them to the whims of the Chinese Communist Party.

“Do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China? Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months,” Zen said of the deal.

Cervellera told AP that Beijing is unlikely to actually sign a deal with the Vatican, as some Chinese government officials fear that it will set a precedent for other religions that are not traditionally Chinese to reach an amicable deal with the government, which would hinder Chinese President Xi Jinping’s policy of “Sinicization of religion,” which is a campaign to bring all religions in China in line with Chinese culture and the authority of the communist party.

Local police said they knew nothing of Guo’s kidnapping, but some local Catholic parishioners told AsiaNews they believe Guo was kidnapped for refusing to celebrate Easter with bishop Zhan Silu, who is one of the seven “illegitimate,” government-approved bishops the Vatican has agreed to recognize.

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