Rome (AsiaNews) Public security officials detained seven priests from Zhengding diocese (Hebei province) on April 27 only to release them the following day, this according to information that reached the Kung Foundation yesterday and confirmed by AsiaNews today.
The seven priests were taken into custody in Wuqiu village as they travelled to a religious retreat.
Their detention comes a few days after the Chinese government expressed its willingness to improve relations with the Vatican.
Church sources in northern China said that the priests were released on April 28, except for Fr Li Suchuan, who was let go a few days later.
Local sources told AsiaNews that the priests were released because of Zhengding's special situation. Local police are in fact prepared to "turn a blind eye" activities involving priests and faithful belonging to the non official Church as long as they "are not too obvious".
In the days preceding and following John Paul II's death police arrested several bishops, priest and lay people from the underground Church.
On March 31, Mgr Yao Liang, Auxiliary Bishop of Xiwanzi (Hebei) was arrested. It was reported that the 83-year-old bishop was released on or around April 20.
Before his detention, Bishop Yao had been under mounting pressure from the Catholic Patriotic Association, which controls the official Church, to sever ties with the underground Church and join its ranks. Under current Chinese law, the Chinese Catholic Church cannot have formal ties with the Holy See.
Soon after his release, the bishop was taken into custody again and is being subjected to a programme of 're-education'.
It is commonplace for bishops belonging to the underground Church to be taken by the authorities and subjected to programmes meant to re-educate them, i.e. 'brain wash them', in order to get them to leave the underground Church for the official one by signing up for the Patriotic Association..
In March AsiaNews published a list of 18 bishops who disappeared, were arrested or forced into isolation. Bishop Yao Liang was not among them.