Rome (AsiaNews) - News has broken of the arrest and disappearance of the Apostolic Administrator of Yujiang, Fr. John Peng Weizhao last May 30. Reacting to the news, a Church source in China noted bitterly: "They are trying to eliminate all the candidates for the episcopate in the underground Church. They want to eradicate the underground Church by eliminating the younger leaders".
UCA News reports that the priest was picked up by police and members of the
Religious Affairs Bureau in Fuzhou on May 30. Since then the priest's parishioners
and friends have had no word on where he was taken. The members of the
Religious Affairs Bureau, who also presided over the arrest, claim to know
nothing and that his detention was on the orders of the provincial (and not
Fr. Peng is about forty years old and has been apostolic administrator of Yujiang since 2012. It should be noted that Yujiang is an underground diocese, until recently under the pastoral leadership of the elderly Msgr. Thomas Zeng Jingmu, who has spent over 23 years in prison for his faith and his obedience to the Pope.
Under the Chinese government's restructuring of church dioceses, Yujiang is one of five dioceses in Jiangxi incorporated into one, Nanchang, under the leadership of the official bishop John Li Suguang. Li Suguang is in an ambiguous situation with regards the Holy See: he has participated in illicit ordinations and seems more willing to obey the directions of the Patriotic Association. This was not the case with Fr. Peng, who was formed and educated in the underground Church.
The Catholics in Jiangxi, who number at least 100 thousand, are more inclined
to follow Fr. Li Peng than the bishop. This in fact, is probably why the Religious
Affiars Bureau stepped in: to "advise" the apostolic administrator to
step aside, to leave all the freedom and power to the patriotic bishop, or
someone more obedient to the Party.
The Patriotic Association and the Religious Affairs Bureau have been carrying out a campaign to prevent any possible election of an underground bishop for years by arresting several diocesan administrators or threatening them with torture.
In 2012, the apostolic administrator (underground) of the Diocese of Harbin
was arrested ahead of the
illegitimate episcopal ordination (without the Pope's permission) of Yue Fushen.
In previous years, other priests, deemed possible candidates for the episcopate, were arrested.
In August 2011, a group of priests and laity of the underground community of Tianshui (Gansu) was arrested. The group included the administrator of the underground diocese, Fr. John Baptist Wang Ruohan.
In early April 2011 Fr. Chen Hailong, an underground priest of the diocese
of Xuanhua (Hebei) was also arrested and released four months later. During his
4 months of detention he was abused and brainwashed to get him to join the
Patriotic Association and reject his bond with the Pope (see Freed 05/08/2011 Fr.
Chen Hailong, kidnapped four months to deny the Pope, is freed).
In early August 2011, Fr. Wang Chengli, an underground priest of 48, administrator of the diocese of Heze (Canzhou, Shandong) was arrested. He was also pressured to renounce all ties with the Pope and was left for days without food or water (see 06/08/2011 Four priests arrested in Shandong, appeal to the Holy See and Church).
The elimination of possible candidates for the episcopate from the underground Church leaves room for candidates who are more timid and submissive, seemingly "patriotic", but actually "opportunists" (as defined by Benedict XVI). This model is promoted by the leaders of the official Chinese Church, led by the president of the college of bishops, Msgr. Joseph Ma Yinglin, an excommunicated bishop, and by Msgr. Johan Fan Xinyao, head of the Patriotic Association, whose purpose - an Church independent of the Pope-is "incompatible with Catholic doctrine" (see Letter of Benedict XVI to the Catholics of China).