Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - Mgr John Peng Weizhao, underground bishop of Yujiang (Jiangxi), was released a few days ago. However, he remains under police watch and cannot exercise his episcopal ministry.
According to UCANews, the prelate's release occurred on Friday on the condition that he does not travel outside of Jiangxi province for three months.
Mgr Peng was arrested on 30 May. In April, the Holy See had secretly appointed him as bishop of Yujiang in lieu of Mgr Thomas Zeng Jingmu on grounds of age and whom he had served as apostolic administrator since 2012. Probably, Chinese authorities got wind of the nomination and decided to arrest him.
The area covered by the underground Diocese of Yujiang is part of the official Diocese of Nanchang (created from the merger of five existing dioceses), which is led by Bishop John Li Suguang.
Unlike Mgr Peng, who trained in the underground Church, Li Suguang is in an ambiguous situation vis-à-vis the Holy See with a record of participating in unlawful ordinations and a propensity to follow the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
Mgr Peng's arrest was seen as a way to marginalise him in favour of the official bishop who toes the CPCA line. However, in Jiangxi, local Catholics, who number at least 100,000, tend to gravitate towards Bishop Peng rather than Bishop Li.
It is unclear whether the decision to release the prelate comes from Beijing or provincial authorities. What is clear though is that the Chinese government still detains a number of both official and underground bishops.
Among the former, there is Mgr Thaddeus Ma Daqin, official bishop of Shanghai, who has been under house arrest for the past two years for resigning from the CPCA; among the latter we have Mgr James Su Zhimin, bishop of Baoding, who has been in police custody since 1997, and Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang, senior bishop of Yixian, who was seized by police in 2001.