China Arrests Another Catholic Bishop

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - Chinese rights campaigners report the arrest of another underground Catholic bishop, even as the U.S. struggles to win support for a resolution critical of China at the annual United Nations human rights session in Geneva.

Security policemen arrived unexpectedly Monday at Bishop Jia Zhi Guo's home in Zheng Ding, Hebei province, and took him away without explanation, the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported.

The organization, which monitors and campaigns against Chinese persecution of Catholics, said it could not establish where he had been taken. It said his arrest came a month after another underground bishop, Wei Jingyi, was detained for more than a week in Heilongjiang province.

Wei's release came after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Vatican both demanded an explanation from the Chinese government.

The Roman Catholic Church has been banned in China since Beijing cut ties with the Vatican in the 1950s. The communist government then established an official "patriotic" denomination, which is called Catholic but is not loyal to, or recognized by, the Pope.

Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based Holy Spirit Study Center, said Wednesday Jia was about 69 years old, and was ordained in 1980. He had later been consecrated as a bishop in secret.

Lam said it had become common practice for the Chinese authorities to crackdown on church leaders ahead of Easter or other important Christian occasions, to remove them from their flock.

He said the Catholic diocese in Hong Kong -- to which the study center is attached -- closely monitored developments on the mainland, hopeful of improvements.

"It is difficult to change the government's old mentality [towards the church]," he said.

In Geneva, the U.S. is seeking support from other members of the 53-nation U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) for a resolution it has introduced focusing on China's rights record.

Kim Holmes, U.S. Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, told reporters it was an "uphill battle" winning backing for the motion.

In previous years, the U.S. has sponsored a China resolution at the annual gathering in Geneva, only to have China's allies stymie the effort, usually by using a procedural "no action" motion to avoid having the U.S. resolution discussed.

China's official People's Daily said in a recent opinion piece that the U.S. motion at Geneva was "doomed to fail," just as it had done on ten previous occasions.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said it deplored the response of China, which it said "has chosen to see the resolution as a confrontation and not as a chance to demonstrate its sincerity about implementing its human rights obligations."

Holmes said the U.S. was well aware of the history. "We went into this with our eyes open but we felt nonetheless that it is absolutely necessary that we take this stand."

He said some members of the UNHCR were themselves human rights abusers.

Among the current membership are nations widely criticized for violating human rights, including Cuba, Zimbabwe, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. officials have frequently accused abusers of getting onto the UNCHR motivated primarily by the desire to avoid scrutiny.

This year's six-week UNCHR session ends on April 23.

'Patriotic' Church

After China cut ties with the Vatican, mainstream Catholicism was driven underground.
Campaigners say many priests have been jailed for refusing to renounce the authority of the Pope, but that despite the persecution, millions of Catholics continue to worship in secret.

Non-Catholic Christians also face repression.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), all religious activity in China has to take place within one of five official bodies falling under the government's Religious Affairs Bureau.

They are the Patriotic Catholic Association, the Protestant Three-Self Patriotic Movement, the Chinese Buddhist Association, the Chinese Islamic Association and the Chinese Daoist Association.

"All unregistered religious activity is held to be illegal," says CSW. "The registration policy has been particularly rigorously implemented over the last few years, making it the main vehicle for state control and oppression of religious activities. This has resulted in severe violations of religious freedom and other core human rights."

Activists say China has in recent years also begun to classify harmless religious groups as cults.

In a white paper released last week and entitled "Progress in China's Human Rights Cause in 2003," the government's State Council held up as evidence of freedom of religion the fact that the country had more than 100,000 venues for religious activities, 300,000 clergy, 3,000 national and local religious organizations and 74 religious schools.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow