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BISHOP LIU DIFEN DIES IN CUSTODY, UNDERGROUND CATHOLICS ISSUE APPEAL

Updated: April 15, 1993 05:00 PM GMT
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Bishop Stephen Liu Difen of Anguo has died, aged 80.

The Catholic bishop was missing from public view for more than two years following a crackdown on underground Catholic communities in Hebei province.

According to a statement that began circulating in April among Hong Kong-based Catholic Church in China researchers, Bishop Liu died last Nov. 14.

The statement, dated Nov. 20 and signed by "The Faithful Church of Mainland China," alleges that the bishop, who was not affiliated with the government-approved open Church, was tortured before his death.

Entitled "Another Mainland China Bishop Dies in Custody," the same document appeals to the Universal Church, human rights organizations, the press and all good-hearted people to be concerned about China´s human rights situation.

It notes that Bishop Liu is the third prelate to die in government custody, preceded by Bishop Peter Joseph Fan Xueyan of Baoding in April 1992 and Auxiliary Bishop Paul Shi Chunjie of Baoding in November 1991.

The "Faithful Church" text also expresses worry about the safety of three other clandestinely ordained bishops from Hebei: Peter Chen Jianzhang of Baoding, Paul Liu Shuhe of Yixian and Cosmas Shi Enxiang of Yixian.

Speaking with UCA News on April 8, two officials of the Religious Affairs Bureau (RAB) of Hebei Province in Shijiazhuang confirmed that Bishop Liu had died on Nov. 14, 1992, but declined to comment on details of the case.

China-appointed Bishop Paul Jiang Taoran of Shijiazhuang told UCA News that in January he learned Bishop Liu had died and was buried in Biandukou Village, Bishop Liu´s birthplace, but did not know why he was missing for two years.

A postscript at the end of the "Faithful Church" statement explains that Bishop Liu was born into a devout Catholic family on May 13, 1912, in Renqiu county, Hebei, and that he received a religious education as a child, entered the major seminary in Beijing in 1932 and was ordained a priest in 1939.

After graduating with top marks from Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing (now in Taipei), he returned to Anguo diocese for pastoral work and medical studies. During the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945), he was administrator of a Catholic secondary school in Hankou diocese, Hunan province.

In 1951, two years after Communist takeover, he was arrested for refusing to join the three-self (self-governing, self-propagating, self-supporting) reform movement. Upon his release, he worked in the Hospital of the Commune of Anguo.

The postscript also says he was seriously persecuted and maltreated during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), but allowed in 1980 to return home and resume his medical post at the Anguo hospital.

After retiring in 1984, "he devoted himself fully to evangelization work," and four years later -- without government authorization -- was ordained Bishop of Anguo diocese, near Baoding, 190 kilometers southwest of Beijing.

Bishop Liu was again secretly arrested in December 1990 by public security bureau officials. Nothing was known of his whereabouts until days before his death on Nov. 14, 1992, which the postscript says was "due to ill-treatment."

The "Faithful Church" text says a local RAB chief on Nov. 2 informed Bishop Liu´s nephews: "Your uncle is sick, his legs cannot walk, he has high blood pressure, his mind too is not very clear. He wants to come home to rest."

On Nov. 11, says the statement, the family was told to see the bishop at a hospital in Kuancheng County, a mountainous area in northernmost Hebei, about 360 kilometers away from Anguo, but his three nephews "unfortunately arrived too late" because they found him in a coma and his breathing aided by oxygen.

When they asked to take him home, the nephews reportedly were refused oxygen even after offering to pay a high price. One of them then rushed home, rented a car, returned with a doctor and an oxygen tank, only to find that Bishop Liu had died at 1:10 p.m. on Nov. 14.

In seeking RAB approval to remove his corpse, the statement says the family asked what crimes he committed and were told: "He committed no violation, no crime; he was brought up here to rest." The text calls that reply "Nonsense!"

The statement also says the family found injuries on the bishop´s body and believe he was tortured before death. They reportedly saw unhealed wounds on his back and upon his left armpit, as well as scars on his left shoulder.

The text also asserts that despite government attempts to keep Catholics of the underground Church from Bishop Liu´s funeral, an underground bishop as well as 14 priests and more than 3,000 Catholics took part.

A China Church specialist told UCA News on April 7 the death of the three underground bishops reveals that a kind of extra-judicial detention is rather widespread in the mainland, and that detainees are denied access to proper medical care and relatives are kept in the dark concerning their whereabouts.

END

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