The Vatican issued a strong statement over the weekend against the religious repression in China in concern for the 23 Roman Catholics - including eight priests –who have allegedly been arrested, and those who have been ordered to undergo enforced re-education.
"According to the information received here, as of September 6, 2004, the number of clergy members of the Baoding diocese detained or deprived of liberty is 23, including a bishop and his auxiliary who disappeared in 1996 and 1997," said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope's spokesman.
In a statement made over the weekend, Navarro-Valls criticized China for arresting the eight priests and two seminary students in Hebei province in August reporting that two of the priests were sentenced to "a period of re-education through forced labor," while others, detained in Baoding diocese, had not yet been released. So far, the no reason has been given for the arrests.
"If the received news turns out to be true, we find ourselves once again faced with a grave violation of freedom of religion, which is a fundamental right of man," Navarro-Valls said.
According to news agencies, the reported arrests are the latest in a string of detentions of Catholic priests and bishops, some of whom run underground seminaries in unofficial churches and private homes, remaining loyal to the Vatican in a communist state which does not recognize the Pope's authority.
Since China broke diplomatic ties with the Holy See in 1951, sources say the Vatican has preferred to resolve alleged cases of religious repression through diplomatic channels.
The US-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reports that despite the official ban on independent Catholic worship, there are an estimated 12 million "underground"