BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it opposed outside interference in its internal affairs after the Vatican expressed concern about a Chinese bishop it said had been “removed”.
Pope Francis would like to heal a decades-old rift with China, where Catholics are divided between those loyal to him and those who belong to a government-controlled official church.
The Vatican said in a statement on Monday it was “observing with grave concern the personal situation of Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin of Wenzhou, forcibly removed from his episcopal see some time ago”.
Asked about the Vatican’s comments, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China protects the right religious belief in accordance with the law along with “normal” religious activities, but like other countries will strengthen its management of religious matters.
“We oppose any country, any party, using so-called individual cases to interfere in China’s internal affairs,” Lu said.
The government has not publicly commented on where the bishop might be or what has happened to him.
“The diocesan Catholic community and his relatives have no news or reasons for his removal, nor do they know where he is being held,” the Vatican said in its statement about Shao.
One obstacle to better ties is the question of who should make senior clerical appointments in China.
China says bishops must be named by the Chinese Catholic community and refuses to accept the authority of the pope, whom it sees as the head of a foreign state that has no right to meddle in China’s affairs.
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the expulsion of foreign missionaries from China after the Communists took power in 1949.
Another source of friction is the Vatican’s maintenance of official ties with self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a wayward province to be taken back by force if necessary.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Janet Lawrence)