Beijing has warned against outside interference in China’s internal affairs after the Vatican’s formal rebuke of Chinese authorities forcibly removing and detaining a Catholic bishop.

“China opposes interference from any foreign country or individual in our internal affairs on the basis of individual cases,” In a China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang said in a statement on June 27.

“China protects the religious freedom of its citizens, religious activities and the rights of religious organizations in accordance with the law. However, similar to other countries, China will tighten legal control over religious affairs,” Lu said.

Shao Zhumin (邵祝敏) was confirmed by the Vatican as the successor of the Wenzhou diocese, in Zhejiang province, in September 2016 following the death of his predecessor. However, Shao is not part of China’s state-run Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), and the Chinese government views Shao as part of an “underground” religion.

Shao has been removed and detained by the Chinese authorities on four separate occasions since he took over the Wenzhou diocese.

The bishop was summoned by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs on May 18, and sent notice to an assistant to prepare for Mass on May 22. He has not been heard from since.

Chinese authorities have not released any information regarding Shao’s whereabouts or the reason for his detention.

The Vatican released a statement on June 26 in response to questions from journalists saying that the Holy See was observing the situation with “grave concern” and called for Shao’s return.

“In this respect, the Holy See, profoundly saddened for this and other similar episodes that unfortunately do not facilitate ways of understanding, expresses the hope that Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin may return as soon as possible to the diocese and that he can be assured the possibility of serenely exercising his episcopal ministry,” reads the statement.

The Vatican and China, which do not have formal diplomatic relations, have long been at odds over which body has control over the Catholic Church in China.

Despite reports in recent years that the Vatican might build diplomatic ties with China, China continues to exert state control over the millions of Christians within the country. The government has demolished or removed crosses from more than 1,500 churches in Zhejiang province, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2017 Annual Report.

The USCIRF 2017 Annual Report designated China as a “country of particular concern,” as President Xi Jinping (習近平) works to make religion “more Chinese.” The report noted that China in 2016 revised and enhanced its Regulations on Religious Affairs to include “tighter government control over religious education and clergy, and heavy fines for any religious activities considered ‘illegal.’” The rules forbid religion from “harming national security.”

Since the implementation of the new regulations, two Protestant pastors were imprisoned for 12 and 14 years for “encroachment,” “running an illegal business” and “concealing their financial records." Human rights lawyers working on behalf of churches have been detained and forced to make televised confessions.

Uyghur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists continue to be targeted by Chinese authorities for practicing their religions.

Editor: Olivia Yang