It has been reported that seven priests of China's underground Roman Catholic Church have been detained for attending an unauthorised retreat in China's northern city of Jinzhou, led by Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo. The retreat was held following the election of the new pope.
Worship is only allowed in China under state-supervised churches that reject Vatican authority over their operations. Leaders of the underground church which have several million followers are often arrested and harassed.
The Chinese government had expressed its hope to form better relations with the Vatican following the death of Pope John Paul II but demanded that churches leaders avoid interfering in China's affairs and break their relationship with rival Taiwan.
"It is quite obvious that the desire expressed by the Chinese government to improve its relationship with the Vatican is less than sincere," said Joseph Kung, the president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, in a statement.
According to the foundation, Jia has been under police surveillance for the past month and had been warned by the government not to conduct any religious activities as John Paul lay on his deathbed and while the new Pope Benedict XVI was being installed.
Jia has been repeatedly detained for refusing to accept government demands to affiliate himself with the Communist Party-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association, which rejects Vatican authority over issues such as the naming of bishops.
The seven detained priests have been identified as Wang Dingshan, Li Qiang, Liu Wenyuan, Zhang Qingcai, Li Suchuan, Pei Zhenping and Yin Zhengsong.