July 5, 2005

China, at odds with Vatican, arrests bishop -group

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, which does not recognize theVatican, has arrested an underground Roman Catholic bishop, aU.S.-based religious rights group said, quashing hopes of anysudden rapprochement between Beijing and the Holy See.

China has not had diplomatic relations with the Vaticansince 1951 and believers must attend state-sanctioned churchesled by bishops who pledge loyalty to Beijing. But a parallelchurch loyal to the Pope practises in secret.

"Bishop Jia Zhiguo, the underground Roman Catholic Bishopof the Diocese of Zheng Ding in Hebei province, was arrestedagain by two government officials at his house ... and drivenaway to an unknown location," the Cardinal Kung Foundationsaid.

It said Jia, 70, was arrested on Monday but did not specifyon what charge.

The Vatican has regularly accused China of violating humanrights and criticized the government for what it sees as therepression of religion, a charge the government denies.

Jia had previously spent 20 years in jail and had beenarrested six times since January 2004, the foundation, whosemission is to promote the Roman Catholic Church in China, said.

Last month, a Catholic news agency specialising in Chinasaid the state appointment of a bishop in Shanghai had beenbacked by the Vatican, raising the possibility of improvedties. Chinese religious officials denied the report.

There had been hopes that the death of Pope John Paul inApril could open a window for renewed diplomatic relationsbetween China and the Vatican.

But that would mean the Holy See having to cut ties withTaiwan, which China does not recognize, and China allowing theVatican to choose bishops.

The Vatican estimates it has about 8 million followers inChina, compared with about 5 million who follow thestate-backed association. Taiwan has about 300,000 Catholics.