1990-11-29 00:00:00

One year after the inauguration of China´s underground Catholic episcopal conference, at least four clerics who were arrested last winter are still in prison.

More than 30 clerics and laypeople, including nine bishops who are not recognized by the Chinese government, were apprehended within two months after the Nov. 21, 1989 inaugural meeting at the church in Zhangerce village in Sanyuan diocese, Shaanxi, northwestern China.

The episcopal conference was formed reportedly to unify a leadership that would fully accept papal authority and keep itself in complete communion with the whole Catholic Church.

Of the four imprisoned clerics, Bishop Peter Liu Guandong of Yixian, the president of the standing committee of the episcopal conference, was sentenced to three years re-education in a reform-through-labor camp in Tangshan, Hebei province on May. 21.

Father Su Zhemin, vicar general of Baoding, was sent to the same farm with Bishop Liu.

Bishop Hou Guoyang in Chongqing, Sichuan, who allegedly took part in the student-led pro-democracy movement last year, is also reportedly in jail.

Bishop Joseph Li Side of Tianjin is reportedly jailed with political prisoners in a crowded cell.

According to Catholic sources in Hong Kong, five other bishops have been released but their whereabouts are unknown.

They are Bishop Guo Wenzhi in Qiqihar, Heilongjiang; Bishop Matthias Lu Zhensheng of Tianshui, Gansu, released April 26; Bishop Philip Yang Libo of Lanzhou, Gansu, released in spring; Bishop Bartholomew Yu Chengti of Hanzhong, Shaanxi, released July 27; and Bishop Zhang Liren of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, released in April.

The situation of Jesuit Bishop Paul Li Zhenrong in Hebei is unclear.

Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding, named honorary president of the episcopal conference in absentia, has been missing since early November, a Church in China observer said.

The observer, who preferred anonymity, told UCA News Nov. 21 that Bishop Fan was probably taken on another "journey" by security authorities to prevent him from meeting Catholics during Christmas.

Commenting on the legitimacy of the one-year-old episcopal conference, the observer said the conference was formed in line with the Universal Church.

He said the bishops followed canon 447 of the new Code of Canon Law to set up their episcopal conference.

With bishops and priests still detained, the observer questioned the right to religious freedom that is guaranteed in China´s Constitution.

Father John Tong Hon, executive director of the Holy Spirit Study Centre here, which researches the China Church, said the comprehensiveness of the episcopal conference is "in question as only a few bishops attended it."

Father Tong told UCA News Nov. 21 the episcopal conference must receive Vatican approval, regardless of the many Catholics outside the mainland who respect the underground bishops´ intentions.

Father Tong said the Vatican had not clearly indicated its directions on the issue and thus he declined to comment further.

Archbishop Dominic Tang Yee-ming of Canton (Guangzhou), who lives in Hong Kong, agreed that so far the Vatican had not clarified the legitimacy of the episcopal conference.

Archbishop Tang, named an honorary vice president of the episcopal conference in absentia, admitted that it had not achieved much in the past year as many of the group´s initiators were arrested.

But the archbishop said that underground Church activities would not halt because of the arrests.

He noted that government control over various aspects of life, including religion, had been tightened since the Asian Games in Beijing this fall.


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