Beijing — Tensions between Beijing and the Vatican are mounting after Chinese authorities detained an outspoken Catholic bishop who has defied state control of the church, a move that highlights the Communist Party’s deep mistrust of religious organizations.
Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was whisked away just hours after he announced his resignation from the leadership of the Patriotic Catholic Association, or PCA, the government body that controls China’s state-sanctioned version of the Catholic Church, according to two people close to the PCA.
Ma, whose ordination had been supported by both Beijing and the Vatican, made the announcement during his ordination ceremony on Saturday in the St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai.
In a snub to the authorities, he said he would immediately quit his duties in the association to focus on his new role as auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, one of the largest dioceses in China.
The Vatican bars its clergy from holding political office, but many senior clergy in China simultaneously serve in the church and in the PCA.
When Ma came to speak, he faced the congregation, gave remarks of thanks and spiritual mediation, and then delivered his surprise conclusion, according to video footage of the events.
“At this time I’ve been reflecting on what our loving mother church reminded me, once you assume your pastoral job . . . your body and heart should be completely focused on pastoral things and evangelization. It is not appropriate to assume other duties anymore. So, from the moment of today’s ordination, it is not appropriate for me to be a member of the Patriotic Association anymore,” he said.
The congregation broke out in loud applause.
Shortly after, Ma was taken to a seminary near Shanghai in the town of Sheshan, according to two people who described the events on the condition of anonymity, and he has not appeared in public since. Two employees of the state-run church said that Ma was in “closed meditation” and that they did not know when this might end.
The Vatican issued a statement Tuesday welcoming Ma’s ordination but did not mention his confinement. It also renewed its call for Beijing to end its practice of unilaterally ordaining what it describes as “illicit” bishops.
Relations between the Vatican and China, home to millions of Catholics, have been souring since late 2010, when Beijing unilaterally ordained a bishop who was not approved by the Vatican.
Since then, China has continued to appoint bishops against the wishes of the Vatican, most recently last week. The Vatican views these bishops as illegitimate because they do not have the pope’s blessing.
Beijing’s attitude toward organizations of all faiths has been hardening over the past several years, particularly as the leadership transition approaches.
Protestant churches in private houses in Beijing have been raided and their pastors detained. More than 20 Catholic clergy are thought to be in prison because of their affiliation with the underground church, according to a senior church member.
The Communist Party has long viewed organized religion as a threat to its grip on power, and Beijing has attempted to co-opt the practice of faith by incorporating the five recognized religions — Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Daoism — into the State Administration for Religious Affairs.
China’s official Catholic and Protestant churches are often hung with banners reading “Love God, love your country,” and the state is in charge of appointing religious staff and approving church expansions.
Many Chinese Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, eschew the state-controlled churches, instead worshiping in unofficial churches that are often run in homes or rented spaces. While China’s official statistics report only 28 million Christians, estimates from within the church range as high as 80 million.
Police in China’s far western region of Xinjiang raided a house church Sunday school, rounded up 70 children and their teachers for questioning, and locked up seven women teachers in a local detention center, ChinaAid has learned.
The children were attending special summer classes arranged by the house church in the regional capital city of Urumqi when the police action occurred on the morning of July 2. Police from the Qiangfanggou police station and agents from the Sha district Domestic Security Protection Department rounded up all the children and Sunday School teachers and took them to a school where they were questioned. Some of the children’s parents and school principals and teachers were also summoned and questioned.
Seven women Sunday School teachers, including Bao Ling, Wang Xingxing, Luo Qinqin, and Lu Xia, are still being held in the Xishan detention center.
“To prevent children from having access to religious education in the faith of their parents is a direct contravention of the U. N. Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981) and U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) which was adopted by China in 1992,” said ChinaAid’s founder and president, Dr. Bob Fu.
“Arbitrarily detaining peaceful Sunday school teachers is a violation of their citizens’ right to basic religious freedom,” he added. “We urge the Xinjiang authorities to immediately release them and to halt their continuously intensifying persecution of religious believers, including those the Uyghur minority group who peacefully engage in their religious practices .”
How fortunate many of us are, being able to go to Church without being persecuted for going…