Chinese authorities have reportedly released a top underground bishop central to China’s deal with the Vatican, who they kidnapped at the start of Holy Week.
Police kidnapped Msgr. Vincent Guo Xijin, the underground bishop of Mindong, Monday night after he refused to celebrate Easter Mass with Zhan Silu, a bishop whom Guo considers illegitimate since Zhan is officially excommunicated from the Church. Authorities released Guo to his home Tuesday after detaining him overnight but have banned him from celebrating Mass as bishop, according to AsiaNews.
Authorities initially arrested Guo because he, along with the underground church in Mindong, organized an early Chrism Mass, which is celebrated on Holy Thursday. The police wanted to prevent him from presiding over the Mass and to make certain that he did not preside over any other Mass in the future. Beijing does not recognize Guo as an official Catholic bishop.
Guo had agreed to step down as the recognized bishop of Mindong’s underground church and assume the role of auxiliary bishop to allow Zhan to take over as ordinary bishop. The move was part of the Vatican’s deal with China to unite the underground and official Catholic churches within the country and settle the dispute over who has authority to appoint bishops in China’s churches.
The Vatican has asked Guo and another underground bishop to step down and has agreed to recognize seven “illegitimate” bishops appointed by China’s Patriotic Catholic Association, which is overseen by the Chinese government, according to the terms of the deal. In return, if Beijing signs the deal, Beijing will recognize 20 bishops officially appointed by the Vatican and about 40 bishops who were appointed in the underground church. China would also agree to honor the Pope’s veto on any name Beijing lists for appointment to bishop.
Guo’s arrest follows a series of similar kidnappings of other underground Catholic church leaders who authorities have tried to pressure into joining the Patriotic Association. Those who refuse to join are subject to management by the Communist Party of China, which seeks to make people comply with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s policy of the “Sinicization of religion.” Sinicization is the process of making religions more compatible with Chinese culture, which is to say subservient to the state and the rules of the communist party.