Chinese authorities have arrested an ailing 70-year-old Catholic bishop, forcing him to continue the illegal detention that he has been undergoing for the past 13 years.
Bishop Augustine Cui Tai, coadjutor bishop of the underground church in Xuanhua Diocese, was taken away to a unspecified place on June 19, local Catholics told UCA News.
The diocese is based in the northern province of Hebei, near Beijing.
Bishop Cui has been detained since 2007 without following any judicial procedure. He has only been allowed to return home for a few days during festivals such as the Lunar New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Bishop Cui returned to the diocese in mid-January during the lunar festival. He was not taken back to the detention place, possibly because of the outbreak of Covid-19, a source told UCA News.
The source told UCA News that Bishop Cui had a rushed departure. In the afternoon, his relatives took him to a designated place.
Bishop Cui has been suffering from severe stomach ailments, the source said.
Since his arrest in 2007, he has not been able to spend Easter in the diocese. His latest January-June stay in the diocese "was the longest" the bishop had enjoyed in the diocese in the past 13 years.
When the Chinese government "is working to build a society based on the rule of law, the authorities had no reason to keep Bishop Cui in custody for as long as 13 years intermittently," the source said.
Bishop Cui was ordained a priest in October 1990. Pope Benedict XVI appointed him coadjutor to Bishop Thomas Zhao Kexun of Xuanhua in 2013. Bishop Zhao is now 96 years old.
The Vatican, which has been working for several decades to normalize relations, signed a September 2018 agreement with the Chinese government on the appointment of bishops.
Despite the Vatican trying to pursue a path of dialogue and mutual trust, the Chinese government's goodwill towards the Vatican and the Catholic Church cannot be seen, the source said.
The agreement was part of the Vatican's attempt to end the Chinese Church's division between the Vatican loyalist underground church and the state-recognized open church. It reportedly agreed to mutually accept existing bishops and not to have new bishops without mutual agreement.
Chan Lok-shun, project officer of the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, said Bishop Cui's detention "is a gross violation of his freedom. It is outrageous."
He told UCA News that the Vatican and China entered a historic agreement on the appointment of bishops, but China does not respect that agreement.
"The situation of religious freedom in China has not only not improved but has worsened," he said.
Bishop Cui's re-imprisonment was proof that the Chinese Communist Party "was still using brutal methods" against religious leaders who do not agree with the state religion.
"How sincere is it? How can one believe that the Chinese side will abide by the agreement?" Chan asked.