Four underground priests reportedly disappeared in China's Hebei province

Flag of China Credit Tomas Roggero via Flickr CC BY 20 CNA 11 15 13 The flag of the People's Republic of China. / Tomas Roggero via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

Four priests from the underground Catholic Church in China's Hebei province have been taken into police custody for indoctrination, AsiaNews reported Monday.

The publication wrote Nov. 5 that the priests are being “indoctrinated on the religious policy of the Chinese government … because they refuse to enroll in the Patriotic Association.”

The abducted priests are Fr. Zhang Guilin and Fr. Wang Zhong of the Diocese of Chongli-Xiwanzi, and Fr. Su Guipeng and Fr. Zhao He of the Diocese of Xuanhua.

Fr. Zhao He may be under house arrest, according to some sources.

Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.

The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.

A Sept. 22 agreement between the Holy See and Beijing was intended to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the Patriotic Association.

The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.

Zen wrote in a column for the New York Times that the agreement was a step toward the “annihilation” of the Catholic Church in China.

While Pope Francis is “very pastoral,” Zen said he does not think that he properly understands how communist China works. In Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina, the communists worked to defend the poor against government oppression, often alongside Jesuits, he said. This could be why the pope “may have a natural sympathy for Communists,” as he views them to be persecuted.

It is far different, said Zen, in places where communists are the ruling party – like China. When they acquire power, the communists become the persecutors themselves, he said.

While the exact terms of the agreement between China and the Vatican were not released, Zen is not optimistic about the future of the underground church. While Pope Francis could still “veto” the nomination of a state-approved bishop, “how many times can he do that, really?”

“What good is having the last word when China will have all the words before it,” he asked. He also expressed doubt that the approximately 30 bishops of the underground Church will still be permitted to function as bishops if the two Churches are reconciled.

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