'Underground' Chinese priests arrested, beaten - Cardinal Zen says Vatican officials have blocked Pope's plan for Chinese Church
Since last January, at least two underground priests (in communion with the Pope), from Xuanhua dioceses (Hebei), near Beijing, have been detained and badly beaten up. They are among at least 20 underground priests in Xuanhua and Xiwanzi dioceses have been tortured and pressured to “register” with the government-sponsored Church associated with the Communist Party-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association over the past two decades, sources, anonymous per request, told AsiaNews.
On 9 April, Fr Chen Hailong of Xuanhua was taken away by officials in Yanqing Beijing County, and has not yet been released by today, 12 April, the source told AsiaNews.
Fr Zhang Guangjun, also from Xuanhua diocese, was detained in February, and badly beaten. His family was allowed to take him out on March 29 for medical treatment. He had bruises to the head and the legs, and had been visibly tortured.
Fr Zhang was tortured for refusing to concelebrate and to register and get the “priest card” as a means of accepting the independent and self-managed Church. “To concelebrate (with patriotic priests) is never possible. As being held, I don’t expect to leave here freely,” he was quoted as saying.
As early as 13 January, he was brought away from a layperson’s home by officials disguised as technicians who had come to check the gas system. He was taken to a hotel in Zhuolu County, and barred from sleep for five nights.
After a short release for the Lunar New Year in February, Father Zhang reported to the local united front work office on March 8 but was badly beaten up and tortured.
According to sources in Zhangjiakou area, since 1990s, more than 20 priests from Xuanhua and Xiwanzi dioceses were detained, beaten, jailed, sent to study sessions in order to get them “registered” and “surfaced”.
Meanwhile, during his recent visit to Washington, D.C., Cardinal Joseph Zen told reporters that mistakes and misunderstandings on the part of key Vatican officials, and a desire for “compromise at any cost,” have undermined Pope Benedict's intentions for the Catholic Church in China.
“In the year 2007, the Holy Father issued a letter in which he gave a very clear direction. But those directions were not followed,” said Cardinal Zen, in an April 7 press conference at Washington, D.C.'s Hudson Institute. “There was even a wrong interpretation by some experts, like a certain Fr. (Jeroom) Heyndrickx, which misled many people.”
These experts, according to Cardinal Zen, encouraged all Chinese Catholics to seek government recognition as members of the “official” or “open” church, a step that would require them to join the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association.
“That wrong interpretation said that the Holy Father 'wants everybody to come into the open,'” the cardinal explained. “This is not true at all.” Although the Patriotic Association contains many bishops in communion with Rome, Pope Benedict warned “underground” bishops to be careful in approaching it.
“The Holy Father cautioned people in the underground,” Cardinal Zen pointed out. “Because when you want to come out, the letter says: in no few instances, indeed almost always, the government will impose conditions which are not acceptable to the Catholic conscience.”
The Pope's letter ultimately left the matter of government recognition up to individual bishops, while warning that the Catholic Patriotic Association's founding principles – especially its claim of independence from the Vatican – were “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”
Now, Cardinal Zen believes that a rush for government recognition, combined with misguided Vatican policies, has emboldened authorities in Beijing, and even swayed many Chinese Catholics to the government's side.
In November of 2010, the Chinese government ordained a bishop without the approval of the Holy See, at a ceremony in which several bishops loyal to Rome were reportedly forced to participate. In December, police officers rounded up a large number of bishops and escorted them to a state-sponsored meeting of an unauthorized “bishops' conference.”
“It is no more our Church,” Cardinal Zen lamented. “They carried out one more illegitimate ordination, and then they had a big assembly which is completely against the doctrine of the Church. It was like a slap in the face of the Holy Father.”
“But unfortunately, these people in the Congregation for Evangelization, and this expert, still believe that they must carry on the policy of compromise.”