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Bishop reported missing amid Beijing-Vatican reconciliation

November 16, 2018

BEIJING (AP) — A bishop who has resisted demands to join China’s Communist Party-controlled church body has been taken into custody, a Catholic news service reported, despite recent moves by Beijing and the Holy See toward reconciliation.

Asia News reported that Peter Shao Zhumin dropped out of sight several days ago, but gave no details other than saying he had been subjected to “dozens of days of indoctrination as in the times of the Cultural Revolution,” a reference to Mao Zedong’s radical 1966-76 attack on traditional Chinese culture, religion and the intelligentsia.

Shao was appointed by the pope in 2016 and was posted to the southeastern city of Wenzhou, which has a large Christian community. Officials reached Friday by phone at the local religious affairs bureau, its department regulating the Catholic church and police headquarters said they had no knowledge of Shao’s situation and refused to give their names.

Asked about the matter, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying offered no information on Shao’s disappearance but reiterated Beijing’s hopes for better ties with the Holy See.

“We would like to improve our mutual understanding and enhance our mutual trust so as to advance our relations with the Vatican,” Hua said at a daily briefing.

Shao’s disappearance follows a breakthrough agreement to give China some say over the appointment of bishops that critics called a cave-in to the ruling Communist Party just as it is waging a sweeping crackdown on religion. Others characterized it as an imperfect but much-needed step toward uniting Catholics in the world’s most populous country.

The Vatican has long hoped to bring together China’s 12 million Catholics who are divided between those worshipping in state-sanctioned churches and the underground priests and parishioners loyal to the pope, who are frequently detained and harassed.

Details of the September agreement haven’t been released, although analysts say the Vatican will retain the power to put forward candidates while Beijing will likely have the right to refuse them.

Such moves are seen as a concession on the Vatican’s part in the face of Beijing’s assertion that it would not allow “foreign forces” to govern the country’s faith groups. Under President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping, the authorities have in recent months cracked down heavily on Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and Buddhists in the name of national security and the “Sinosization” of religion.

China broke off relations with the Holy See in 1951, after the officially atheist Communist Party took power and established its own church. All religions were harshly persecuted during the rule of ex-leader Mao Zedong, but underwent a revival following his death in 1976 and have continued to grow in recent years despite the party’s efforts to rein them in.

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