Eleven Catholic priests from the underground church remain imprisoned in regions throughout China, Catholic-affiliated news media reported on Thursday.
Meanwhile, conditions for the priests reportedly worsened because of a recent letter by Pope Benedict XVI, says Asia News, which has ties to the Vatican.
The letter in June maintained that the papacy had sole right to ordain bishops, directly challenging Beijing’s frequent ordainment of bishops without papal authority.
Virtually all house church activities in Hebei, Zhejiang and central Mongolia were halted by government intervention, which included arrests of several priests whom were in the process of organizing youth gatherings.
In July, three visiting priests from Hebei Province were rounded up by police in the Ximeng region of Inner Mongolia. According to Asia News, the priests were: Wang Zhong, age 41; Gao Jinbao, age 34; Liang Aijun, age 35. Police also arrested a 50-year-old friar, named Liu Tai, in the county of Zhoulu, Hebei Province.
Amongst other grievances originating from Hebei Province, Chinese security forces started a series of arrests shortly before the Catholic –holiday at Pentecost. The Hebei priests whom were arrested endured solitary-confinement in labor camps, while police forbade visits from relatives. Six other priests continue to serve prison time for alleged illegal religious activities, says Asia News.
The diocese chancellor of Wenzhou city, Father Jiang Sunian, is scheduled for release in August due to ill health. Fr. Jian was arrested last August for falsifying his passport to allow him to travel on pilgrimage to Rome.
China’s estimated 12 million Catholics are split between the state-approved “above-ground” church and the unregistered “underground” church that rejects government ties and answers only to Rome.
Government reaction to underground churches range from physical harassment to imprisonment of followers.
The issuance of bishop ordainments has been the main barrier for normalizing Sino-Vatican relations, even though the Pope has already approved most of the state-assigned bishops.
Beijing’s relations with the Vatican ended after the ruling Communist Party forced the nation’s Roman Catholic Church to sever ties with the papacy in 1957. Those choosing to side with the state’s Catholic church came under the affiliation with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
The CPCA has overseen the ordainment of several bishops without Vatican-approval, including the recent selection for Bishop of Beijing candidate, Li Shan.
In addition, China has also demanded that the Vatican sever ties with Taiwan, which Beijing sees as an illegitimate breakaway.