Religion in China
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It is at least the fourth time Bishop Shao Zhumin has gone missing this year. Photo: Handout

Chinese bishop ‘missing’ despite historic deal between Beijing and Vatican

  • Sources say they fear repeated disappearance of Bishop Shao Zhumin is a sign of increasing control on religious worship in China
  • Shao has been out of contact for at least a week, according to priest

A bishop in eastern China belonging to the Vatican-aligned unofficial church has gone missing, sources told Agence France-Presse on Thursday, despite a historic accord reached between Beijing and the Holy See barely two months ago.

The September deal paved the way for a rapprochement between the Vatican and the communist country. The pair broke off diplomatic ties in 1951.

There are an estimated 10 million Catholics in China, divided between a government-run association whose clergy are chosen by the Communist Party and the unofficial church which swears allegiance to the Vatican.

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But regardless of the warming ties, those who work closely with the unofficial church say a clampdown by local authorities is ongoing.

They fear the repeated disappearance of Bishop Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou diocese in Zhejiang province is one sign of increasing governmental control on religious worship.

Shao has not been reachable for at least a week, said a Chinese priest who previously worked in an underground church in China and returned to Rome last year.

It is at least the fourth time Shao has gone missing this year.

Such detentions – usually lasting between 10 and 15 days – often happen to clergy of the underground church, the Rome-based Chinese priest said, though many within the Catholic fraternity had expected an end to this after September’s deal.

With a historic pact, the Vatican continues its battle with Beijing for Chinese hearts and minds

“I know Bishop Shao Zhumin personally but I haven’t been able to contact him recently,” said Anthony Lam, a Chinese Catholic church expert at Hong Kong’s Holy Spirit Study Centre.

Pope Francis recognised seven clergy appointed by China as part of the deal, which was signed after the recent clampdown on religion in China.

Churches have been destroyed in some regions, crosses have been removed from church steeples, church-run kindergartens have been closed and authorities have clamped down on Bible sales.