BEIJING — Chinese Catholics said Tuesday that three bishops had gone missing or been detained in an apparent attempt to force them to take part in a state-sanctioned ordination.
Workers at three dioceses in southern China's Guangdong province told AFP their bishops had disappeared in a move that appeared to be linked to a state-sanctioned ordination due to take place in a nearby city on Thursday.
The Vatican and Beijing have not had formal diplomatic ties since 1951 and tensions between the two have risen considerably over the issue of state-sanctioned ordinations.
China's 5.7 million Catholics are increasingly caught between showing allegiance to the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) that controls the state-backed church, or to the Pope as part of an "underground" Church.
The three bishops -- Liao Hongqing of Meizhou, Su Yongda of Zhanjiang and Gan Junqiu of Guangzhou -- were loyal to the Pope, according to a report from the Catholic news agency AsiaNews.
The report said a fourth bishop, Joseph Junqi of Guangzhou, was also missing, although a local source told AFP he was attending the ordination voluntarily.
A Meizhou church member who refused to be named told AFP Liao was "taken away" by police "because he is being forced to participate in the ordination."
Su, meanwhile, was detained on Sunday by local religious bureau officials, while Gan has not been seen for a week, other church members said.
Liu Bainian, vice head of the CPCA, said he had not heard of this.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he had no knowledge of the bishops' disappearance, adding that China's Catholic community ordained bishops "in accordance with the principles of independence, self-reliance and self-governance."
"This is a vivid demonstration of the freedom of religious belief," he told reporters at a regular briefing.
Earlier in July, the Holy See excommunicated an "illegitimate" Chinese bishop and in May the Pope called on all bishops to "refuse to take the path of separation" in spite of "pressure" from the communist authorities.
But China has ignored these appeals and announced last month it hoped to ordain 40 bishops "without delay".
It is a matter of Christian charity and duty that we pray for the suffering faithful in China. Particularly, as ones imbued with a Mercedarian spirituality, the suffering of Christendom throughout the world is a moment of immense sadness and a point of tremendous grace.
Our Lady of China