China has released a senior Catholic bishop of the underground Catholic Church after 10 years of imprisonment, appearing to show its sincerity in re-establishing the divided Sino-Vatican relationship.
According to a press statement from the U.S.-based rights group Cardinal Kung Foundation, the 57-year-old auxiliary Bishop An Shuxin of the Diocese of Baoding in Hebei Province, was released by the government Friday.
An has not registered with China’s official Catholic Patriotic Association. Cardinal Kung Foundation revealed that An was arrested in May 1996. Since then, he was only allowed to visit his mother once.
After his sudden release yesterday afternoon, Cardinal Kung Foundation has learnt that An is given permission by the Chinese government to continue his pastoral work, though he is still under surveillance.
Joseph Kung, the President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, welcomed the release, commenting that it may imply "China's sincerity about improving its relationships with the Vatican and its human rights policy." On the other hand, Kung hope that "this release is not an isolated case, but rather the beginning of the release of many dozens of other Roman Catholic bishops, priests and faithful currently being jailed by the Chinese authorities across China."
Since the death of late John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly pledged his commitment in recovering the diplomatic relations between Beijing and the Vatican, who were broke off in the 1950s when the Chinese government prohibited any churches to be loyal to the pope and the Vatican’s authority.
Cardinal Joseph Zen from Hong Kong, a pro-democracy and outspoken figure against China’s restricted religious policy, has once commented during his elevation to cardinal in March, "only if China is willing to open itself and grant more religious freedom, should the Sino-Vatican tie be recovered." The China-Vatican diplomatic talk is now therefore in deadlock because of China’s resistance against other countries’ interference in its religious policies.
Cardinal Kung Foundation appealed for the release of six other Catholic bishops of the underground Church in Hebei province:
1. Bishop Su Zhimin of the Baoding diocese, Hebei. 74 years of age, was arrested on October 8, 1997. His current condition and location are unknown.
2. Bishop Han Dingsiang of Yong Nian, Hebei, 69 years of age, was arrested in December, 1999. His current condition and location are unknown.
3. Bshop Jian Zhiguo of Zhengding, Hebei, 72 years of age, was arrested in June of this year; he has been arrested 9 other times in the past three years. His current status is unknown.
4. Bishop Shi Enxiang of Yixian, Hebei, 84 years of age, was arrested in April 2001. His current condition and location are unknown.
5. Bishop Yao Liang, an auxiliary of the Xiwanzi diocese in Hebei, 83 years of age, was arrested in July of this year, and is being held in Zhangjiakou.
6. Bishop Zhao Zhendong of Xuanhua, 86 years of age, was arrested in December 2004. His current condition and location are unknown.