The Holy See’s Press Office has released an official statement denouncing the death of a 76 year-old Chinese bishop who had been imprisoned since the late 1990’s and demanding that all Catholic clerics under arrest by the Communist regime be released.
The Director of the Vatican’s Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said the Holy See learned “that at the end of August 76 year-old Bishop Giovanni Gao Kexian of Yantai (Shandong province) died in prison. The bishop’s body was turned over to family members by police. Bishop Gao had been imprisoned since the late 1990’s and relatives had not received word from him for sometime.”
Navarro-Valls also said that “only now” has the Holy See learned that in the first of week of August police rounded up eight priests and two seminary students of the Baoding diocese in Hebei province.
He also stated that Fathers Pablo An Jianzhao and Juan Bautista Zhang Zhenquan “have been condemned to a period of reeducation through forced labor. The others might still be held in Quyang (Baoding), with the exception of three who do not belong to this diocese.”
According to reports the Holy See received on September 6, “23 members of the clergy of the Diocese of Baoding are being detained or deprived of their liberty.”
“Among them are Bishop Santiago Su Zhimin and his Auxiliary Bishop Francisco An Shuxin, who disappeared in September of 1997 and March of 1996 respectively, and are being detained without trial in a secret place.”
Navarro-Valls also denounced the arrest of the Diocesan administrator of the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, together with two priests and a seminarian.
"The reasons for such repressive measures have not been made known to the Holy See. If the received news turns out to be true, we find ourselves once again faced with a grave violation of freedom of religion, which is a fundamental right of man," he said.
Lastly, the Vatican called for “respect for this right, sanctioned by the Universal Declaration of Human rights, and the Holy See trusts that the persons mentioned above will have their freedom reinstated and will be able to carry out their pastoral commitment in service to their respective Christian communities.”