BEIJING – The Vatican is reported to have given its blessing to atheist China's choice of a new bishop, the second such appointment in as many months in a sign of a thaw in decades-old icy relations.
But the Connecticut-based Cardinal Kung Foundation said Chinese authorities had beaten up parishioners in the southeastern province of Fujian who had been trying to prevent the arrest of an underground Roman Catholic priest, undermining reconciliation efforts.
China has come under fire from overseas human rights watchdogs for violating human rights and repressing religion, but the government denies the charges and insists its citizens enjoy religious freedom.
China's state-backed Church ordained Anthony Dang Mingyan as an auxiliary bishop of Xian, capital of the northwestern province of Shaanxi, on July 26, according to AsiaNews, a Catholic news agency specialising in China.
The appointment had “the approval of both the Vatican and the Beijing government”, the agency said.
Dang, 38, might eventually replace Archbishop Li Duan, 78, who has cancer, it said.
The agency described Li, widely thought to be the cardinal named secretly by the late Pope John Paul, as a “staunch defender of Church autonomy who has been viewed with suspicion” by Beijing.
Pontiffs sometimes name cardinals “in pectore” (in the breast) and keep their names secret because revealing the identity may put them in physical danger.
There was no immediate comment on the AsiaNews report from either the Vatican or the China Patriotic Catholic Association, which administers the legally approved church.
Last month, the agency said the Vatican had backed the state appointment of Joseph Xing Wenzhian as an auxiliary bishop of Shanghai, raising the possibility of improved ties. Chinese religious officials later denied the report.
China has not had diplomatic ties with the Vatican since 1951, two years after the Communist takeover, and believers must attend state churches led by bishops pledging loyalty to Beijing. But a parallel church loyal to the Pope practises in secret.
The Cardinal Kung Foundation said in a statement that security personnel had arrested Lin Daixian, an underground Catholic priest, along with a seminarian and nine parishioners when about 50 people were attending Mass on July 25 at a private home in Pingtan county in the southeastern province of Fujian.
Police beat up the parishioners as they tried to prevent Lin's arrest, the group said, adding that parishioners had suffered severe injuries, including broken bones and teeth and concussion.
“The persecution continues and gets worse and bolder at a time when China is making significant economic progress,” Joseph Kung, president of the foundation, said in the statement.
He urged the International Olympic Committee to consider cancelling the 2008 Beijing Summer Games to prevent its name being “tarnished further by their association and coexistence with the evil spirit of religious persecution in China”.
Contacted by telephone, an official at the Pingtan police station said: “I can't talk about it without approval from my superiors. We have to abide by strict disciplinary rules unlike you. You have press freedom in the West.”
There had been hopes that the death of Pope John Paul in April could open a window for renewed diplomatic relations between China and the Vatican.
But that would mean the Holy See having to cut ties with self-governed democratic Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, which Beijing claims as its own.
The Vatican estimates it has about 8 million followers in China, compared with about 5 million who follow the state-backed association. Taiwan has about 300,000 Catholics.
The Communist government has refused to allow the Vatican to appoint bishops officially, saying this would amount to interference in its internal affairs.
(Additional reporting by Guo Shipeng)