Vatican expresses concerns over 'missing' Chinese bishop

Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin

 VATICAN CITY – The Holy See Press Office released a statement, Monday, in response to questions regarding Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, who was “forcibly removed” from his diocese by Chinese authorities, an incident that could sour the supposedly improving relations between the Vatican and China.

 “The Holy See is observing with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago” read the statement produced by Holy See Press Office Director, Greg Burke. 

 “The diocesan Catholic community and his relatives have no news or reasons for his removal, nor do they know where he is being held,” the statement continued.

 According to the Catholic news agency AsiaNews, the bishop has been missing since May 18.  He was reportedly last seen at Wenzhou Airport waiting for luggage on June 16, accompanied by government officers who “took him to an unknown location.”

“The Holy See, profoundly saddened for this and other similar episodes that unfortunately do not facilitate ways of understanding, expresses the hope that Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry,” added the statement.

 This episode is the latest in a string of disputes between the Vatican and China.

 In 1951, relations between the two were severed, as China asked for “the end of interference” from the Vatican into Chinese domestic affairs. 

 However, Pope Francis has declared that he wanted to improve relations with Beijing and had attempted to curry favour from China last September by not inviting the Dalai Lama, considered a dangerous separatist by Chinese authorities, to a summit in Assisi.  

 Furthermore, the Vatican’s decision to invite China to an organ trafficking summit in February of this year had harboured the hope of reviving relations between the two.

 The case of Bishop Shao may prove to be a setback in repairing the relations between the Vatican and China.

 The 54-year-old bishop belongs to Wenzhou’s unofficial Catholic community and  was approved by the Vatican in September, but contrastingly the Chinese government does not recognise his position.

 German ambassador to China, Michael Clauss, declared on June 20 that the treatment of Bishop Shao Zhumin by Chinese authorities was a case of growing concern.

 “Since autumn last year he seems to have been forced to move to unknown locations no less than four times. His full freedom of movement should be restored,” said Clauss.

 The Holy See Press Office statement concluded with an invitation “to pray for Bishop Shao Zhumin and for the path of the Catholic Church in China.”