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Chinese bishop taken into custody for lessons

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HONG KONG — Coadjutor Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou and his chancellor, Father Paul Jiang Sunian, were taken into custody by government officials in mid-March to attend “learning classes,” sources told the Asian church news agency, UCA News.

Bishop Shao, 49, was appointed by the Holy See to lead Wenzhou’s unregistered, or underground, Catholic community in 2007 and is not recognized by the government.

He and Father Jiang were taken March 19.

If Bishop Shao and Father Jiang are “intelligent enough in their learning,” they will be allowed back soon; if not, they will be detained longer, local church sources quoted government officials as saying.

“This implies their release depends on whether they accept the government’s religious policies,” one of the sources told UCA News.

Sources also said a few of Wenzhou diocese’s 17 underground priests were summoned to meet with religious officials in mid-March. Some were told to remain behind while others were allowed to return home the same day, the sources added.

Though no official reasons have been given, the sources said they suspect the recent events may be linked to the secret episcopal ordination in Tianshui diocese in Gansu province last year. Government officials are investigating who was involved in the ordination, they said.

In January, Bishop John Wang Ruowang of Tianshui was taken away for “learning classes” at an undisclosed location in January.

A church observer who asked not to be named said China’s religious policy is “moving backward” and is reflected in the current situation with the Catholic Church and with the 30 Tibetan monks and nuns who have self-immolated in the fight for religious freedom.

The spate of detentions of underground clergy since last fall was the result of a conscious government decision, he noted.

In Hong Kong, Patrick Poon, a member of the diocesan justice and peace commission, told UCA News that Catholic priests and other church workers were especially vulnerable to detention without charge under new revisions to China’s Criminal Procedure Law.

“Police tend to confine them in detention centers, guesthouses or force them to take the so-called learning class for a prolonged period of time without giving any reason,” he said.

Recent revisions that obliged authorities to notify family members of such detentions “do not deal with church personnel and fail to address what is the disciplinary treatment for the officials if they do not observe the law,” he told UCA News.