BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese priest who publicly quit the state-sanctioned Catholic Church and was made bishop with the pope’s approval was taken away by officials last weekend and is being held in his seminary, a source said on Tuesday, in a move likely to further strain relations between Beijing and the Vatican.
The incident is the latest sticking point in a long-running dispute over the status of China‘s state-backed church, which rejects papal control. Beijing and the Vatican differ over who has the authority to appoint bishops.
Thaddeus Ma Daqin‘s movements have been restricted since he was taken away by officials on Saturday shortly after he was ordained auxiliary bishop of Shanghai with the approval of the pope, the source close to the Vatican told Reuters by telephone.
The source cited more than 10 sources who had direct knowledge of the situation, but declined to be named, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
Repeated calls to the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association went unanswered. A Vatican spokesman confirmed the ordination but declined to comment further.
Ma announced he was leaving the Communist Party-run Patriotic Catholic Association in Shanghai on Saturday, AsiaNews, a Catholic online news service reported on Monday.
Asked why the authorities are restricting Ma’s movements, the source said: “It’s very clear. From the words of what he (Ma) pronounced, certainly this is not according to the will of somebody.”
The source said China often restricts the movements of Vatican-approved bishops.
The source said Ma, who is now in the Sheshan seminary in Shanghai, had failed to appear in church last Sunday to celebrate Mass. Calls to the seminary went unanswered.
Chinese Catholics number between 8-12 million, and are divided between a state-sanctioned church that has installed bishops without Vatican approval and an “underground” wing long wary of associating with the Communist Party-run church.
China and the Vatican broke off formal diplomatic relations shortly after the Chinese Communists took power in 1949. Pope Benedict has, however, encouraged the two sides of the divided Chinese church to reconcile, and engaged in a low-key dialogue with Beijing about political ties.
The Vatican has previously condemned what it called “external pressures and constrictions” on Catholics in China.
(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Ken Wills and Jonathan Thatcher)