Underground priest goes missing in Baoding while others are released after 'brainwashing'
Fr Xie Tianming is thought to have agreed to join the official Church, which implies submission to the Communist Party. Like released clerics, he is undergoing "guǎn zhì”, a period of supervision that ends with a change in mindset. Those who do not obey the Catholic organisations linked to the Communist Party are constantly monitored, unable to perform their ministry.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Father Xie Tianming, an underground pastor in the diocese of Baoding (Hebei), went missing at 6 pm last Monday, Catholic sources in China told AsiaNews. At the same time, 10 other local underground priests were reportedly released while the local official Church celebrated the consecration and dedication of new churches.
From what is known so far, Fr Xie “disappeared” after he decided to join the official Church, which is under the control of the Communist Party of China (CPC).
When this happens, clerics are taken by the authorities, held at a secret location, and politically “re-educated”, i.e. brainwashed. This entails a long period of supervision until the clerics can prove that they have changed mindset.
Called "guǎn zhì”, this form of supervision does mean incarceration but rather restricted movements and activities. To join the official Church and be dominated by the CPC, clerics must accept constraints and undergo compulsory sessions of political indoctrination.
Since the Holy See and China signed an agreement on episcopal appointments in 2018, which was renewed in October 2020 and 2022, the CPC’s United Front has launched a campaign to force priests to join the Party and the official Church.
Usually those who refuse are removed from their parish or community and end up in detention.
According to sources, at least half of the priests in Baoding joined the official Church after a period of guǎn zhì, a treatment endured by 10 clerics who disappeared in police custody in the first four months of 2022.
The authorities eventually released them individually over the past year, but not before forcing them to take part in indoctrination sessions. As a result, some joined official organisations, while those who did not are monitored, unable to perform their ministry.
An underground priest released in early 2023 after almost a year of supervision explained that he did not want to change his position. Now he is confined to his home, watched by the authorities and no longer able to provide any pastoral service.
The underground community of Baoding is one of the oldest and largest in China. Their bishop, James Su Zhimin, has been in police custody for more than 25 years, after spending more than 40 years in forced labour camps under Mao Zedong.
The decision by Bishop Su’s vicar, Bishop Francis An Shuxin, to join the official Church (at the suggestion of the Vatican according to some) has divided the local Catholic community.
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