China detains Vatican-backed Catholic priest

Last week, the Beijing-backed church said it wanted to ordain at least 40 bishops "without delay".

Beijing: Chinese police detained a Vatican-backed Catholic priest and blocked his ordination as a bishop, a parishioner said on Thursday, in a move likely to raise tensions with the Holy See.

The detention of Joseph Sun Jigeng came as China`s state-run Catholic church reportedly ordained another bishop without the consent of the Vatican, which stipulates ordinations can only go ahead with the Holy See`s blessing.

"Joseph Sun Jigeng was taken away by police on June 26 and he has not been released," a member of the Handan Catholic church in northern China`s Hebei province said.

"On June 29, we had planned to have the ordination ceremony, but the police have blocked the road and no ceremony can be held. Police said it was an `illegal activity`," said the church member, who refused to be named.

But the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) -- which controls the state-backed church -- denied Sun, 43, had been detained, while police in Handan refused to comment.

The Vatican and China 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.

But as China`s Catholic population has grown in recent years, the two sides have warmed to each other, although Beijing`s insistence in overriding Vatican authority in approving bishops has cast a shadow over improved ties.

Last week, the Beijing-backed church said it wanted to ordain at least 40 bishops "without delay".

On Wednesday, Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained without Vatican approval as the bishop of Leshan in a ceremony held in southwest China`s Sichuan province, the Vatican-linked AsiaNews website reported.

Liu Bainian, deputy head of the CPCA, confirmed Lei`s ordination but was noncommittal about Vatican approval.

"We have not contacted the Vatican on this, but I think they know it. I`m not sure whether they agreed to this or not," he said.

China`s 5.7 million Catholics are caught between staying loyal to the ruling Communist Party or showing allegiance to the pope as part of an "underground" Church not recognised by the authorities.

Bureau Report

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