China has placed dissenting Catholic priests in Jiangxi province under house arrest, in breach of an agreement signed with the Vatican to protect clergy from coercion, according to a report by Catholic news media.
A number of priests in the Yujiang diocese have been forbidden from “engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of clergy” as of Sept. 1, after they refused to join patriotic churches organized by the Chinese Communist Party, according to the Union of Catholic Asian News.
Authorities have put the priests under surveillance in their homes, and Bishop Lu Xinping was barred from holding Mass on the day that he received notice from the government, the church media reported.
Meanwhile, China is poised to renew its agreement with the Vatican on the appointment of bishops, which was first signed in September 2018 and is due to lapse next week. The agreement was seen as a sign of the two countries moving closer to restoring diplomatic relations after ties were severed in 1951.
The China-Vatican agreement was implemented “successfully” and the two sides “will continue to maintain close communication and consultation and improve bilateral relations,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Thursday.
Critics of the Chinese regime have said that its treatment of Catholic priests should not be condoned by the Vatican, adding that cases like those in Jiangxi have become more frequent over the past two years.
In a set of guidelines issued last June, the Vatican said that the civil registration of clergy in China should “take place in a manner that guarantees respect for the conscience and the profound Catholic convictions of the persons involved.”
The Jiangxi clergy faced pressure from officials from the Public Security Bureau, the religious affairs ministry and the United Front Work Department, and they were told they cannot preach unless they sign an agreement to join state-sponsored churches, the report said.
Some underground churches only hold Mass once every six months to avoid detection, and churchgoers were wary of authorities arresting priests, according to the report.
Separately, the Hong Kong government has blocked retired cardinal Joseph Zen from sending mooncakes to prisoners, according to Catholic news agency AsiaNews.
The government explained its decision was on the grounds that the gifting activity had “political elements.” Zen has been sending the mooncakes to inmates since 2010.
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