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Arrested dissident Chinese bishop remains untraced

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou is not recognized by the Communist regime for his refusal to join state-run church body
Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, China

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, China. (File Photo: UCA News)

Published: January 08, 2024 10:45 AM GMT
Updated: January 08, 2024 11:06 AM GMT

The whereabouts of a Chinese Catholic bishop remain unknown six days after his alleged arrest by the Communist authorities, reports say.

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou was arrested on Jan. 2, for allegedly opposing the meddling of the state officials in the affairs of the diocese in Zhejiang province of eastern China, the Pillar reported referring to Asia News.

The 61-year-old bishop was ordained in 2011 with the Vatican mandate.

However, he has been arrested several times and detained for months, effectively barring him from performing the role of a bishop as he is not recognized by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), which controls the “official church.”

Despite the 2018 Vatican-China agreement on bishop appointments based on mutual consent, Shao remains unrecognized by the CCP due to his constant refusal to join the CCPA, reports say.

The prelate is routinely arrested during major Christian feasts such as Easter and Christmas, which bar him from celebrating Mass with large congregations.

The latest ordeal of Shao came after he recently wrote a letter expressing his dismay over the appointment of native priest Father Ma Xianshi, a member of the CPCA, as the head of the diocese, and the decisions Ma made in his absence.

The bishop voiced his opposition to the transfer of priests in the diocese, the division of the parish, the downgrade of another local diocese to a parish within Wenzhou, and the decision to ordain seminarians, the Pillar reported.

Shao was taken into custody during Christmas but arrested a week later.

Before the latest arrest, he was reportedly instructed to bring “clothes for all seasons” indicating that his detention this time is expected to be longer.

Media reports suggest Shao's re-arrest once again put the spotlight on China-Vatican tensions and the Sino-Vatican deal, which was renewed twice in 2020 and 2022, each time for two years. The deal expires in October if not renewed.

The deal allows both the Vatican and China to accept or reject candidates for bishops despite not having formal diplomatic ties since 1950s. Several bishops have been ordained since the deal was signed while the Vatican recognized several bishops ordained without a papal mandate.

However, recently Vatican accused China of violating the deal twice by transferring and installing bishops unilaterally.

In April 2023, Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen was installed as the new bishop of Shanghai. The Vatican said it only learned about it through media reports and termed the move “unilateral.”

Pope Francis, however, recognized the transfer about three months later.

Critics say China has been exploiting the deal to buy the Vatican’s silence on gross violation of human rights and religious freedom in the communist-ruled country, and a renewed crackdown to dismantle the “underground” Catholic Church and other unregistered religious groups.

This continues despite the fact the Vatican issued a note of guidance in 2019 that urges Chinese authorities to respect the decision of “those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.” 

Despite the ongoing tensions, the pope has said he wants to continue “dialogue” with China.

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