.- Two of the Chinese government's “Catholic associations” are meeting from Dec. 7-9, with many bishops loyal to the Vatican reportedly being coerced into attending the gatherings.
With the exception of two articles in Beijing's official Catholic newsletter, almost no information has come out about the assemblies themselves, including in the Chinese media. However, several Chinese Catholic sources have reported bishops being kidnapped or arrested, in order to compel their participation.
The Catholic Patriotic Association and the so-called “Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China” are both seeking to fill a leadership position that has been vacant for several years. A government-appointed bishop, Michael Fu Tieshan, headed both agencies –and occupied a leadership position in the Communist country's national legislature– until his death in 2007.
Ahead of the meeting, around 100 police officers and other government officials in Hebei province converged on the residence of Bishop Feng Xinmao, whom a group of nuns and lay faithful had previously managed to rescue from forced isolation. After a dramatic siege that lasted several hours, authorities recaptured the bishop to take him to the meetings in Beijing.
In the same province, police have declared Bishop Li Lianghui Cangzhou to be a fugitive, after he disappeared in order to avoid the state-church meetings. Other sources within the Chinese Church have described local bishops going into hiding to avoid a similar fate.
Many bishops have not managed to escape, and have been detained and taken to the event. Others, facing similar threats, have reluctantly agreed to attend. However, they are reportedly refusing to concelebrate Masses with excommunicated state clergy.
In Hong Kong, the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission protested the meetings with a rally at government offices. They wore purple ribbons to signify the suppression of Chinese Catholics' religious freedom, and the recent renewal of government pressure on bishops who are loyal to Rome.
In November 2010, the Catholic Patriotic Association forced a group of Vatican-approved bishops to participate in an unauthorized episcopal consecration. Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged on Dec. 1 that Chinese Catholics were now “going through a particularly difficult time,” despite past indications of reconciliation between Beijing and the Holy See.
Although the Vatican has given approval to certain bishops who pledge their obedience to the Pope while operating within the state-approved “Catholic associations,” neither the Catholic Patriotic Association nor the self-described “Bishops' Conference” has ever received the recognition of the Holy See.