Bishop Jia Zhiguo Refuses To Join State-Controlled Church After 15 Months of Detention

August 6, 2010

Authorities in Hebei province recently released unregistered Catholic bishop Jia Zhiguo after detaining him in an unknown location for 15 months. Prior to Jia's latest detention, the Chinese government had harassed and detained him repeatedly since the early 1960s. Chinese policy requires Catholic communities in China to affiliate with the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), a state-controlled entity that monitors and controls Catholic doctrine, practices, property, and personnel. The Chinese government continues to deny Catholics in China the freedom to accept the authority of the Holy See to appoint bishops in China, and the government continues to harass or detain some bishops and priests who defy this policy.

Bishop Jia Released After 15 Months in Detention in Unknown Location

Authorities released 75-year-old unregistered (or "underground") bishop Jia Zhiguo of Zhengding diocese, Hebei province on July 7, 2010, after detaining him in an unknown location for 15 months (Union of Catholic Asian News, 7/08; AsiaNews, 7/08; Radio Free Asia, 7/10). Jia has refused to affiliate with the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA)―a state-controlled entity that monitors and controls Catholic doctrine, practices, property, and personnel―and the government has harassed and detained him repeatedly over the past five decades for practicing his faith outside the supervision of the state-controlled church. Authorities have imprisoned Jia for at least 15 years and have detained him 13 times since January 2004 (Radio Free Asia, 7/10). For example, authorities detained Jia in August 2007 as he prepared to disseminate and discuss with Chinese Catholics a May 2007 letter (via the Holy See Web site) from Pope Benedict XVI that called for religious freedom for Catholics in China. The AsiaNews article reported that, during his periods of detention, authorities subjected Jia to political indoctrination sessions in order to pressure him to join the state-controlled church, but he announced to members of his congregation after his most recent release that he had not joined (AsiaNews, 7/08). Authorities have also kept Jia under surveillance when not in detention. Public security officers built a small house in front of Jia's cathedral from which to monitor him, according to an August 21, 2008, AsiaNews report.

Relations With the Holy See

The Chinese government insists on the independence of the state-controlled church, and it denies Catholics in China the freedom to accept the authority of overseas organizations, such as the Holy See; recent statements and reports from government and Party sources indicate that authorities continue to order monitoring of contact between Catholics in China and overseas organizations. For instance,various documents from local governments throughout China since late 2009 instruct local officials to monitor contact between unregistered Catholics and foreign organizations. Examples include a September 15, 2009, circular from the Communist Party Committee of Zetan township, Ruijin city, Jiangxi province (posted on the official Web site of the Ruijin city People's Government); and a January 8, 2010, circular from the Qujiang town People's Government, Fengcheng city, Jiangsu province (posted on the official Web site of the Fengcheng city People's Government.) These documents mirror recent statements from high-level officials, as well. For example, in an article from the Study Times (reprinted on January 15, 2010, on China Religion), Wang Zuo'an, Director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), said that "by launching the anti-imperialist, patriotic movement, Catholics ... have gone down the path of independence, autonomy, and self-management, casting off control and utilization by imperialist and foreign forces."

As part of its policy of maintaining an independent Catholic church, the government does not recognize the authority of the Holy See to select bishops in China, as noted in the CECC's 2009 Annual Report (p. 116, 119-120). In some cases, however, the CPA has appointed bishops who also have approval from the Holy See. Since April 2010, the CPA has appointed seven bishops who have also received approval from the Holy See, according to a July 22, 2010, Asia News report:

  • Bishop Du Jiang of Bameng diocese, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (IMAR) (AsiaNews, 4/08). Despite appointing Du, authorities placed him under home surveillance soon thereafter. See below for details.
  • Bishop Meng Qinglu of Hohhot diocese, IMAR (Union of Catholic Asian News, 4/19)
  • Bishop Shen Bin of Haimen diocese, Jiangsu province (Union of Catholic Asian News, 4/21)
  • Bishop Cai Bingrui of Xiamen diocese, Fujian province (Union of Catholic Asian News, 5/10)
  • Bishop Han Yingjin of Sanyuan diocese, Shaanxi province (Union of Catholic Asian News, 6/24)
  • Bishop Xu Jiwei of Taizhou diocese, Zhejiang province (Washington Post, 7/14)
  • Bishop Yang Xiaoting of Yan'an diocese, Shaanxi province (Union of Catholic Asian News, 7/15)

For two years prior to this series of appointments, the CPA had not ordained any bishops in China, leaving approximately 40 dioceses of the state-controlled church with octogenarian pastors or vacant seats (AsiaNews, 7/22).

Harassment and Detention of Bishops and Priests in China

While the government has tolerated the involvement of the Holy See in such cases, however, authorities continue to arbitrarily harass, detain, or otherwise interfere in the religious practices of bishops who have challenged the full authority of the state-controlled church. For example, Jia Zhiguo's most recent detention was linked to the involvement of the Holy See, according to a March 31, 2009, AsiaNews report. At the request of the Holy See, officially recognized bishop Jiang Taoran agreed to become Jia's auxiliary bishop, while Jia would become the ordinary bishop of the diocese without affiliating with the CPA. According to AsiaNews, local authorities told Jia that the "unity" between Jia and Jiang "is bad because it is desired by a foreign power like the Vatican. If there must be unity, it must come through the government and the [CPA]." Other recent examples of the government's continued interference include the following:

  • Public security officials are believed to continue holding unregistered bishops Su Zhimin and Shi Enxiang in custody in unknown locations. The two bishops have been missing since 1996 and 2001, respectively.
  • Authorities have kept Bishop An Shuxin of Baoding diocese, Hebei province under surveillance even after he agreed to join the CPA, according to an October 29, 2009, AsiaNews report. Authorities detained An in an unknown location from 1996 to 2006 and have kept him under surveillance since his release in 2006.
  • At the October 10, 2009, funeral of Bishop Lin Xili, unregistered bishop of Wenzhou diocese, Zhejiang province, authorities forbid displays that would portray Lin as a recognized bishop. According to an October 15, 2009, AsiaNews report, authorities prohibited those in attendance from displaying a picture of Lin with a mitre and pectoral cross, clothing his body in bishop's robes, and referring to Lin as a "bishop."
  • According to a January 4, 2010, AsiaNews report, authorities prevented displays of official bishop's insignia during the January 2010 funeral of unregistered bishop Yao Liang, prohibited the publication of obituaries, and only allowed three priests to attend. Yao was an octogenarian released from detention less than a year before his death, according to a January 5, 2010, New York Times report.
  • In March 2010, authorities in the Mindong diocese of Fujian province detained unregistered priests Luo Wen and Liu Maochun for organizing religious camps for Catholic university students, according to reports from the Union of Catholic Asian News (3/11, 3/23). Authorities released Luo on March 18, 2010; the Commission has observed no reports that Liu has been released.
  • According to an April 8, 2010, AsiaNews report, authorities placed Bishop Du Jiang of Bameng diocese in the IMAR under home confinement on the same day that the state-controlled church installed him in his office. The CPA insisted that he attend his official installation ceremony together with Ma Yinglin, an officially recognized bishop whom the government installed in 2006 without approval from the Holy See. Du stated publicly that he was forced to attend the ceremony with Ma, and authorities subsequently placed Du under home confinement.
  • Public security officers in Tangshan city, Hebei province detained unregistered priest Wang Zhong on July 24, 2010, as Wang was leaving Jidong Prison after completing a three-year sentence, according to a July 28, 2010, CathNews China report. Members of Wang's family and congregation who were awaiting his release witnessed the officers put Wang into a police car as he attempted to walk out of the prison gates. In July 2007, Wang had organized a ceremony to consecrate a new church registered with the government in Hebei, according to a November 22, 2007, AsiaNews report. In November 2007, a court in Hebei sentenced him to three years in prison for organizing an illegal meeting and using an official parish seal without permission from the authorities. According to Wang's defense attorney, cited in the AsiaNews report, authorities had approved the consecration ceremony. The attorney described the seal as internal church property.

For more information on Jia Zhiguo and conditions for Catholics in China, see the CECC's Political Prisoner Database and Section II―Freedom of Religion in the CECC's 2009 Annual Report.