A Chinese bishop who has refused to register with the Communist-run Catholic Church in the country has disappeared, with local reports suggesting he has been kidnapped.
Bishop Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou was officially removed for a compulsory “vacation” according to International Christian Concern. However, local news outlets say the bishop has been kidnapped by authorities. The bishop has previously disappeared for weeks or months at a time, and has reportedly been subject to repeated brainwashing efforts by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPCA).
The latest disappearance comes just ahead of the month of November, which in Catholic tradition is a time of prayer for the dead. In past years, Communist authorities have barred the entrance to the local cemetery so Catholics are unable to pray there, AsiaNews reported.
The Diocese of Wenzhou released a statement asking Catholics to pray for the bishop.
“Pray that the Lord will give him confidence and courage, that he will not be demoralized by what happened; pray also that he will remain healthy and whole, under the guidance of Christ, so that he may return to us as soon as possible to shepherd his flock; let us pray together,” it said, according to AsiaNews.
Despite the 2018 Vatican-China deal - renewed in 2020 - that was intended to provide recognition and protection for members of the underground Church in China, some Catholic leaders in the country say their congregations have faced continued and even intensifying persecution in recent years.
The text of the deal has never been made public, but it involves the appointment of bishops. Despite the deal, Communist authorities have continued to detain underground Catholics and to bulldoze churches.
Many underground priests, and some bishops, have refused to register with the CPCA, citing the requirement that they acknowledge Communist Party authority over the Church and its teachings.
The Vatican’s Secretariat of State issued unsigned guidance in 2019, suggesting that a cleric can take the oath while specifying “that he acts without failing in his duty to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”
“The registration, in fact, is always to be understood [by Rome] as having the sole aim of fostering the good of the diocesan community and its growth in the spirit of unity, as well as an evangelisation commensurate to the new demands of Chinese society and the responsible management of the goods of the Church,” the guidance said.
“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”
Bishops and priests who refuse to register have been subject to systematic harassment, arrests and detention.
Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said that the agreement was intended “to help the local Churches to enjoy conditions of greater freedom, autonomy and organization, so that they can dedicate themselves to the mission of proclaiming the Gospel and contributing to the integral development of the person and society.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen, the emeritus bishop of Hong Kong, has been a vocal critic of the deal, arguing that it has contributed to the damaging of the Church’s moral authority in China.