10/29/2009, 00.00
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In Hebei, underground bishop joins Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association

by Bernardo Cervellera
Mgr Francis An Shuxin spent ten years in police custody. Now he is free but still under surveillance, dragged around to meetings to show the correctness of the government’s religious policy. Three bishops remain in police custody. A priest is arrested whilst two are freed to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The Vatican is accused of ambiguities.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Mgr Francis An Shuxin, a former underground (coadjutor) bishop of Baoding, has joined the city’s Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), an organisation well known for persecuting Catholics. Elsewhere underground priests are still being arrested, and told that they can regain their freedom if they join the CPCA whose goal is to set up a Catholic Church independent of Roma, something that is “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”

Sources told AsiaNews that after years in police custody Mgr An Shuxin was torn about joining the CPCA. Vatican and local sources confirm that the Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples (Propaganda Fide) put pressure on him to come out into the open. Seen as one of the more mature and promising bishops, in the end, he obeyed the Vatican. Still, he was against joining the CPCA, an organisation that has arrested bishops and priests and shut down religious shrines, underground seminaries and communities for many years.

Mgr An Shuxin was released only on 24 August 2006 after ten years spent in detention at an unknown location. However, the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau was adamant that in order to be officially recognised, and free to work, he had to join the CPCA.

The former bishop’s decision to join has sown confusion and created acrimony among the faithful in Baoding, who for the most part are members of the underground Church, and led some priests to brand him a “traitor”.

The turn of events has embarrassed the Vatican because its good intentions (to give the bishop greater leeway) were frustrated by the CPCA. Even so, the latter still does not trust its newest member and continues to monitor his movements, preventing him from taking part in conferences and meetings, dragging him around as the “big one” that did not get away from the organisation, proof that the government’s religious policy is correct.

The Vatican had always hoped that the Chinese government would allow the Religious Affairs Bureau register all bishops (official and underground) as well as priests and women religious, without requiring them to join the CPCA. Instead, it does not seem willing to change by one iota its policy of more than 50 years.

Many Baoding Catholics find the Vatican policy contradictory, very different from what the Pope said in his Letter to Chinese Catholics. In fact, in that document Benedict XVI described the CPCA and its actions as “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.”  At the same though, no one has actually called on bishops to quit the CPCA.

Hebei is the Chinese province with the highest concentration of Catholics, at least 1.5 million, mostly in underground communities. It is also the place when the greatest effort is being made to eliminate the underground Church.

The fate of three local underground bishops is still unknown but they are said to be in police custody. One is Mgr James Su Zhimin, the 75-year-old ordinary of Baoding, who was arrested in 1996 and not heard of since. Then there is Mgr Cosma Shi Enxiang (diocese of Yixian), 86, who also disappeared after he was arrested on 13 April 2001. The third one is Mgr Julius Jia Zhiguo (diocese of Zhengding), 74, who disappeared again on 30 March of this year.

The CPCA continues to arrest underground priests to get them to submit to the organisation’s control. Fr Chen Hezhao, 40, who works in Aoxin (Baoding), was arrested last July and moved to a secret location. He had just returned from France where he had completed some specialisation courses.

By contrast, two of the ten priests arrested in Baoding diocese over the past two years were freed last August and have since then taken part in a CPCA meeting. Their release was thus conditional on their joining the organisation.

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