In a surreal situation of overlaps between the Patriotic Church and the Underground Church, Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou, will be re-educated for 15 days.
Msgr. Shao Zhumin, the 55-years-old Catholic bishop of Wenzhou, a prefecture-level city in the south-eastern part of the Chinese province of Zhejiang, has been kidnapped by the police at 9 am today, November 9, and put in isolation where he will be indoctrinated for 10-15 days. AsiaNews, the official press agency of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, announced the news. The government calls these operations “vacation periods.” The damage, that is, and the joke. But the case of Msgr. Shao is really striking.
In the diocese of Wenzhou, due to the provisional agreement between the Vatican and Beijing, the schismatic Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), controlled by the government, and the Underground Catholic Church, always loyal to the Pope, are now united, but the bishop, Msgr. Shao, is recognized by the Holy See and not by the communist government. It is therefore forbidden for “patriotic” priests to pay homage to the graves of underground priests and bishops, just as it is forbidden for minors to go to Mass and to catechism classes. All because, as the sectors of the regime contrary to the provisional agreement repeat, in particular, the United Front and the State Administration of Religious Affairs, in China, the Catholic Church must remain “independent” from Rome.
The diocese of Wenzhou counts 130,000 Catholics, more than 80,000 of whom belong to the underground community and about seventy priests who are more or less half-way between “patriotic” and underground. Now, however, the paradox is that Bishop Shao is also much appreciated by the “patriotic” Catholics controlled by the regime, a fact highly revealing the concrete situation of Chinese Catholicism beyond the strategies of the regime. In practice, that is, the fronts are – luckily – much more mixed, and one should not at all take for granted to say that those who belong to the “patriotic” community really live, in their own hearts, as schismatic pro-communists. In fact, if for a long time the diocese of Wenzhou has been divided, today, factually, on many things, the union between these two souls of the Church is a reality that cannot be ignored. But – the paradox continues – in the united Church of Wenzhou even “patriotic” priests are subject to restrictions and controls. It is a classic: in Xi Jinping’s neo-post-communist China, not only the “rebel” religions are persecuted, but also, and harshly, those controlled by the Party.
Bishop Shao is a veteran of persecution. In the last two years, he has been abducted by the police at least five times. The last one is the seven months imprisonment which ended on January 3, 2018. The aim is always the same: to bend him to the diktat of the government in order to make him adhere to the CPCA. The same has just happened to four Catholic priests of the united (by the regime) diocese of Zhangjiakou.
Interviewed by Bitter Winter, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of AsiaNews, and one of the greatest experts in Catholicism in China, explains: “The problem of the interim agreement between China and the Holy See is that it sets the future (that is, it regulates the appointments of the new bishops to come), reconciles the excommunicated, but says nothing ‒ yet ‒ about the 37 underground bishops who are bishops for the Vatican, but not for the government. Yes, perhaps we have said too quickly that in China the Catholic Church is reunited. But to do and to want division is the government.”