Chinese authorities round up priests and a Hong Kong activist

Martin Banks - Journalist, New Europe

A Chinese bishop from the banned Church of China taken into custody with his vicar general as part of a long-running government crackdown on priests who are not aligned with the official clergy sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party.

The Chinese government has been actively pursuing a campaign that removes or imprisons priests who are affiliated with an underground branch of the Catholic Church in China’s northern Hebei province.

Bishop Augustine Cui Tai of Xuanhua is believed to have been arrested on 29 March, a day after his vicar general, Father Zhang Jianlin, was taken into custody by China’s security services.

Cui has been a regular target of the Communist authorities, having been previously detained on several other occasions by the provincial government over the past decade. Recognised by the Holy See, but not by the Chinese government, Cui was been denounced by a regime-connected local priest, who accused him of not following an agreement signed between China and the Holy See six months ago.

The Diocese of Xuanhua was founded by the Holy See in 1946, but in 1980 the government formed the official diocese of Zhangjiakou as joined it with that of Xuanhua. The diocese of Zhangjiakou is not recognised by the Vatican.

The situation of clergy in detention remains unresolved, says the International Catholic News. “Religious liberties have been subjected to a crackdown over the past year across the country, with strengthened government oversight of religious activities,” said the International Catholic News, which added, “The government’s aim is to paralyse the diocese”

The arrests come amid growing international concern about a fresh crackdown on religious freedom by the Communist authorities in China.

A priest from the underground community said, “if the diocese fails to manage the community, then the government will use this as an opportunity to take it over”.

Reports from China have also indicated that a prominent Catholic activist, Yip Po-lam of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong, was jailed for two weeks after a local court refused to hear her appeal against a conviction for causing a public disorder during demonstrations that took place outside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council five years ago.

Jackie Hung, who is also from the Justice and Peace Commission, expressed fears that jail time for once-tolerated peaceful protests in Hong Kong is now on the rise as Beijing looks to tighten its grip on the region’s autonomous status.

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