Two Catholic priests were arrested in the southern Chinese city of Wenzhou on Wednesday, October 11. Deputy Bishop Shao Zhumin and Secretary General Jiang Shuonian of the underground Catholic Church had visited Rome in September 2006. Both were formally charged with “illegal emigrate crimes.” Catholics around the world are worried about the safety of these two priests now in the custody of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
The Hong Kong Human Rights Information Center reported on October 12 that Deputy Bishop Shao and Secretary General Jiang were taken into police custody after returning from Europe on September 25. The two priests were arrested in Shenzhen and charged in Wenzhou on October 11. Deputy Bishop Shao and General Secretary Jaing are currently being held at the Putaopeng detention center.
Deputy Bishop Zhu Weiying confirmed the news that Shao and Jiang had been arrested. Zhu is a member of the CCP sanctioned “official” Chinese Catholic Church. Staff at the Putaopeng Detention Center refused to answer any questions regarding the two priests being held in their custody.
It has been reported that Jiang had sinus surgery this past August and requires medicines daily as part of his post-operative care. The detention center rejected his family member's request to supply him with medicines. Jiang's health is reported to be deteriorating without his required daily medications.
The press release from the Human Rights Information Centre contained information from a church insider who said that Shao and Jiang had traveled to the Vatican to discuss the case of underground Catholic Church Bishop Lin Xilin. Lin was released from prison in 2003. Lin, 90 years old, is currently in poor health and hospitalized.
The CCP has always refused passports to members of the underground Catholic Church wishing to visit the Vatican. The Human Rights Information Center press release indicated, that according to government authorities, Shao and Jiang had used false identification cards in application for their European travel visas.
The arrests of Shao and Jiang were first reported by Gong Minquan of the United States based Gong Pinmei Bishop's Foundation. Gong condemned the arrests during an interview with this reporter on October 12. “Their plans for traveling to Europe were not to visit the Vatican,” said Gong. “Policemen arrested the two priests upon their return to China confiscating all pictures taken and books purchased during their visit to Rome. They did not even visit the Vatican. This is the second time that both Shao and Jiang have been arrested. These arrests clearly illustrate that in today's China there is no religious freedom,” continued Gong.
Lin Ruiqi, senior researcher at the Hong Kong Catholic Sacred Research Center noted that it is a Chinese citizen's right to apply for a travel visa. “I met with Shao and Jiang during their visit to Rome and there was nothing special,” said Liu. “They were just visiting friends. It is understandable that a Catholic priest would want to visit the Vatican while in Rome. Such visits by Catholic priests are to be expected. Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do if the CCP wants to arrest them upon their return to China. My organization stands against any laws that restrict freedom of movement to clergy. Ordinary Chinese citizens have the freedom to apply for visas and to travel abroad. Catholic priests should have these same basic human rights.”
Some members of the CCP approved “official” Catholic Church in China have different opinions regarding the rights of Catholic priests to travel. A member of the CCP sanctioned “official” Catholic Church in Wenzhou was interviewed by this reporter on October 12:
Reporter: Should priests and members of the underground Catholic Church be permitted to visit the Vatican and attend religious services?
CCP Catholic Church Member: No, there is a Catholic bishop in Beijing. All “official” church doctrine comes from Beijing. There is no need to travel to the Vatican in Rome for religious instruction.
Reporter: Should the Catholic bishop in Beijing be allowed to travel to the Vatican?
CCP Catholic Church Member: No, it is a difficult thing to do and it is not related to freedom of religion. Whether visiting the Vatican or not does not impact one's belief. The visit only improves one's passion.
Reporter: Recently, two priests from the underground Catholic Church were arrested for visiting Rome. What is your opinion regarding these arrests?
CCP Catholic Church Member: It is hard to say, I don't know why they got arrested and I only heard that they were arrested again.