Underground bishop released in China

Underground bishop released in China

A Catholic bishop of the underground Church in China has been released after a decade in jail.

Bishop An Shuxin, an auxiliary of the Baoding diocese in Hebei province, was set free on August 24. He had been arrested in May 1996, in a government raid on the Baoding seminary, where he was rector. Since that time his whereabouts had been unknown.

In what could be a significant step forward for Catholics in China, Bishop An reportedly has received the government’s recognition as a bishop, and permission to do pastoral work. The AsiaNews service reports that he accepted the government’s recognition, but refused to register with the government-sponsored Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Communist Chinese government requires Christians to worship only in state-controlled associations, including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which eschews any connections to the Vatican or the Pope. Many Catholics worship in illegal, underground churches, following only bishops appointed by the Pope, although the divisions are not hard and fast. Many priests and laypeople, and even bishops, are members of the patriotic association in public, and of the underground Church, in secret.

Apparently Bishop An’s compromise—accepting the government’s recognition, but refusing to join the Patriotic Association—was proposed by the Vatican in its ongoing negotiations with Beijing to finally secure freedom and autonomy for the Church.

There are still many Catholics imprisoned in China for their faith, including six bishops.

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