Father Fei Jisheng charged with thieving charity money is not allowed to see his lawyer or relatives
Chinese police have now detained Father Fei Jisheng of Liaoning for a third time. (ucanews.com photo)
Chinese authorities have charged an open community priest from Liaoning Diocese with thieving charity money, but local Catholics believe it is an attempt to stop his controversial underground evangelizing work.
Police officers arrested Father Fei Jisheng, 40, while he was visiting a nun's convent in Fushun city in northeastern Liaoning province on Oct. 18.
"Now we were told that Father Fei has stolen a money box from a home for the elderly," Father Dong Hongchang, vicar general of Liaoning, told ucanews.com.
Father Dong believed his colleague's arrest may be related to the Apostolic Class, an evangelical program for which Father Fei was an enthusiastic promoter. The communist government sees it as an illegal organization.
Perhaps, the authority could not find an excuse to charge Father Fei the last time he was detained in June, Father Dong said, adding that Father Fei would not face any physical harm but "his case is sensitive."
Father Fei was abducted briefly by authorities in November 2015 for unclear reasons. On June 6, 2016, he was also detained with four others who made cross-border evangelization work outside his own diocese, something also not allowed under church law. He was released a month later.
A lawyer hired by the diocese met with Father Fei at the detention center of Gaizhou city on Oct. 24.
The online Evangelization Group posted an appeal on its Wechat account on Oct. 27 giving more details of the priest's arrest.
The head of police told Father Fei's lawyer that his case is "related to religious issues" and it is a "state secret." Father Fei has now been banned from meeting with his lawyer or relatives and all documents sent to him must first be delivered to the police chief, the online group said.
"How is a religious issue also a state secret?" and "what religious issue has the priest violated?" the group added.
The controversial Apostolic Class
Unlike the illegal underground church, Father Fei belongs to the government-sanctioned open church community. However, he has been controversial due to the Apostolic Class program he started in 2007.
The evangelization program has spread across China and is particularly active in Liaoning and in northern Hebei province. Father Fei was inspired to start the movement when a Protestant church member advised him to "use your life to impact the lives of others," according to an article introducing the Apostolic Class on the Xianxian Diocese website.
"Their way of evangelization is more like the Protestant church with added elements of the Catholic charismatic movement, which itself is controversial so the Apostolic Class draws a lot of criticism within the Chinese church and not everyone accepts it," said a church source who asked not to be named.
"Some clergy who do not like the Apostolic Class crossing borders into their parishes or dioceses might ask security officers to crack down. This is the complexity of the church," the source added.
Father Dong said that the Apostolic Class is successful at winning converts but Father Fei should have further considered the situation of the church in China.
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