The Vatican issued a statement on Wed. protesting the arrest and beating of Catholic nuns and priests in China.
Calling attention to two separate events, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Vatican press office said that the beating of the 16 Franciscan nuns in the diocese of Xian in Shaanxi province and the arrests of the six priests in the diocese of Zhengding in northern China "provoke pain and disapproval."
"The violence used at Xian against innocent nuns cannot but be firmly condemned. The detention of six priests in Zhengding, and previously of priests in other localities, is a reason for serious concern," Navarro-Valls said in the statement.
The Vatican-affiliated Asia News reported that the nuns were defending a school that was about to be demolished after government officials sold the property to a developer.
The building originally belonged to the Franciscan Sacred Heart Missionaries, the diocese of the 16 nuns, but during the Cultural Revolution it was confiscated and turned into an elementary school. In 2003, the school was moved to another location, leaving the building empty.
Some 200 nuns stayed at the empty building, protecting it from being demolished, when they were attacked on November 23, Asia News said. Five remain hospitalized, one is said to be paralyzed, another blind in one eye, and the others were released after facing critical conditions.
The other incident occurred on Nov. 18. The arrest of six priests from the Zhengding diocese took place in the province of Hebei, for reasons unclear to the Vatican, Navarro-Valls said.
They are currently being held in the Gaochen Security Bureau. The Cardinal Kung Foundation reported that two of the priests were arrested and beaten, while the other four were, at first, confined to house arrest, and then later detained.
The statement was the first public protest of China's action against Catholics since April 2, the day of Pope John Paul's death. On that day, Navarro-Valls released a similar statement for a series of unexplained arrests of underground Catholic priests, Catholic World News noted.
Since he was named the new Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated that he wants to improve China-Vatican relations, however, with such cases of arrests and government action, the Vatican spokesman said that this poses some difficulty.
China mandates that all Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant, need to be registered within one of the state-sanctioned churches. Often underground Christians are arrested because of this. However, Catholics find that registering with the government means that they cannot recognize the authority of the Pope and they have to join the Catholic Patriotic Association.