China Catholic priest missing amid Vatican row

Photo of a catholic church.

BEIJING - A priest in northeast China has been taken into custody, apparently due to his opposition to the ordination of a Chinese bishop who lacks the Vatican's consent, the priest's diocese said Thursday.

Father Zhao Hongchun from Harbin city was taken away on Wednesday ahead of the planned ordination of a colleague, Father Yue Fusheng, that is scheduled to take place on Friday without the Holy See's blessing.

"Father Zhao's (disappearance) could be due to the worries of 'relevant departments' in government that he may take actions during the July 6 illegitimate ordination," the Harbin diocese said in a statement posted on its website.

Zhao was expected to remain in custody until after the consecration, it said.

The statement said Zhao's disappearance was not the first time that church clergy had disappeared into custody due to the long-running feud between China's state-administered Catholic Church and the Vatican.

China and the Vatican have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951, when the Holy See angered Mao Zedong's communist government by recognising the Nationalist Chinese regime in Taiwan as the legitimate government of China.

Ties thawed in recent years as China's Catholic population grew, although Beijing's insistence on overriding Vatican authority in approving bishops has kept the rift alive.

The official Chinese Catholic Church has around 5.7 million followers according to official statistics, and must follow the edicts of the state. Independent sources estimate that some 12 million other Chinese Catholics worship in underground churches loyal to the pope.

On Wednesday, the Vatican's Congregation for the Evangelisation of Peoples said the installation of Father Yue "does not have the approval of the pope" and is therefore "illegitimate".

It warned in a statement that other bishops taking part in Yue's ordination would also be excommunicated.

China's State Administration of Religious Affairs responded by accusing the Vatican of a "rude and unreasonable attitude" and urged the Holy See to end its threats of excommunication to unapproved bishops.

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