Vatican protests over arrests in Beijing


A top Vatican official said on Monday he had lodged an “energetic protest” with authorities while in mainland China last week over a recent wave of arrests of Catholic faithful and bishops loyal to Pope John Paul.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, one of the Pope’s closest aides, also said he regretted that he was not allowed to contact members of the underground Catholic church, which is not recognized by the Beijing communist government.

Etchegaray, who became the first Vatican-based cardinal to say a public mass in China since the communist victory in 1949, made his comments in a wide-ranging interview with Vatican Radio on his return from China, where he attended a peace conference.

“I protested energetically against the new wave of arrests of the faithful, even of bishops, which took place when I was in China,” he said.

According to the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, which monitors what it says is widespread persecution of the underground Catholic church in mainland China, there has been a spate of arrests of underground clergy, nuns and laypeople.

Among those detained in mid-September were 81-year-old Bishop Zeng Jingmu, who had previously spent a total of 30 years in jail, Father Liao Haiqing, and another priest surnamed Deng, the foundation said.

It also said that about 70 police surrounded the home of Ye Gongfeng, an underground Catholic priest in the eastern coastal province of Fujian, and tortured the 82-year-old until he passed out and remained in a coma for 17 hours.

In the interview, Etchegaray rejected Beijing’s criticism of the Vatican’s decision to canonize Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1, the 51st anniversary of Chinese rule.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry last week railed against the Vatican, calling the choice of the date “extremely hurtful” to the Chinese.

The Vatican has said the choice of the date was purely religious because it was the feast of St. Teresa of Lisieux, patroness of the missions. The 120 martyrs — 87 Chinese and 33 missionaries — were killed between 1648 and 1930, most in the anti-foreign Boxer Uprising in the 19th century.