A bishop in China’s underground church has reportedly been detained, just as the Vatican has been laying the groundwork for him to step aside as part of a historic deal with Beijing authorities over bishop nominations.
The AsiaNews agency, which closely covers the Catholic Church in China, said Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin and his chancellor were taken away late Monday, at the start of Holy Week. AsiaNews noted that Guo had disappeared for several weeks last year around Easter as well.
The Vatican has for years been seeking to unite China’s underground and official churches to bring the more than 12 million Chinese Catholics ostensibly under the pope’s wing for the first time since China and the Holy See severed relations nearly seven decades ago. Worship is officially allowed only in state-authorized churches outside the pope’s authority.
Recently, the contours of a deal were hammered out under which the Vatican would recognize the seven remaining “illegitimate” bishops in China, who were consecrated without papal consent over the years, and ask two underground bishops to step aside and allow the official ones in Mindong and Shantou to become the de-facto Holy See-recognized bishops, the Vatican official said.
Guo agreed earlier this year to a Vatican request to step down and become the auxiliary bishop of Mindong to allow the state-appointed bishop, Monsignor Zhan Silu, to become the Vatican-recognized leader of the diocese, a Vatican official told The Associated Press recently.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to reveal the content of the negotiations, said the deal was by no means a “good” arrangement for the Holy See, since it placed limitations on its activities. But the official said it was the best the Holy See could get now, and likened it to sticking one’s foot in a door to prevent the door from closing.
Going forward, the agreement calls for the pope to be able to “intervene” in future bishop nominations, which the official said amounted to a papal veto over names proposed by Beijing.
The Vatican spokesman didn’t immediately comment Tuesday on Guo’s reported detention. Police officials in the city of Fu’an, where Guo is based, as well as the city of Ningde, which oversees Fu’an, said they “did not know” anything about the reported detention, while calls to local officials who regulate religious affairs rang unanswered.