The Vatican has expressed concern about the arrests of Roman Catholic bishops in China. In a statement on June 23rd, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, spokesman for Pope John Paul the Second, said that two bishops from China’s Hebei province were each detained for several days this month. The Vatican also said that eighty-four-year-old Bishop Zhao Zhendong of Xuanhua, in northern Hebei province, disappeared on May 27th and may be in police custody. Chinese officials responded that Bishop Zhao was willingly attending classes about Chinese government policies on religion. They say he is now back at work.
The Chinese government’s treatment of the three Roman Catholic bishops is an example of how it interferes with the free practice of religion by the Chinese people. The U.S. State Department’s latest Report on International Religious Freedom points out that the Chinese government’s record remains “poor, especially for many unregistered religious groups and spiritual movements such as the Falun Gong.”
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says the U.S. has raised its concerns with Chinese officials:
“We know the conditions are different from region to region, but there are consistent reports of harassment, intimidation, detention of religious believers. . . . [T]he Chinese constitution guarantees the right of religious belief, religious freedoms protected under international human rights interests, and we’ve called on the Chinese government to respect and protect this right for all of its citizens.”
China has five officially recognized religions -- Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. More than one-hundred million Chinese practice these religions in groups registered with and controlled by the government. But many millions of other believers seek to worship free of government control. In response, Chinese police have closed underground mosques, temples, and seminaries, as well as some Roman Catholic churches and Protestant “house churches.” Many religious leaders have been jailed. Some have been tortured.
In Xinjiang province, home to millions of Muslim Uighurs, the Chinese government restricts the building of mosques and the teaching of Islam. In Tibet, monks who refuse to denounce the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, have been expelled from monasteries.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.” This includes the people of China.