A recently ordained Chinese bishop has been detained after he resigned from his post at the government-run Catholic Patriotic Association, which oversees the state-sanctioned Catholic church in China.
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin announced Saturday after his ordination ceremony that he would leave the CPA, whose authority the Vatican does not recognize, to focus on ministry in the Shanghai diocese, a move that conflicts with the Chinese Communist Party's aims to maintain strict oversight of the church.
In the light of the teaching of our mother church, as I now serve as a bishop, I should focus on pastoral work and evangelization, Bishop Ma told a crowd at Shanghai's St. Ignatius Cathedral after the ceremony. Therefore, from this day of consecration, it will no longer be convenient for me to be a member of the patriotic association.
Ma did not appear the next day to hold Sunday Mass as scheduled, and is believed to have been removed to the Sheshan Catholic Seminary outside Shanghai under state observation, though his exact fate and whereabouts are unconfirmed, as are the reasons behind his disappearance.
The Chinese government, officially atheist, has sanctioned Catholicism under the condition that the government itself directs the process by which bishops are anointed, undercutting the Vatican's non-negotiable position that bishops must be selected by the Pope.
Ma had received approval from both the Vatican and Beijing, but his decision to withdraw from the CPA indicated an act of defiance toward the Communist Party.
Neither China's Foreign Ministry nor the Vatican have commented on Ma's presumed detention.
Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Vatican-affiliated Holy Spirit Study Center based in Hong Kong, suggested that local officials, as opposed to the central government, may have directed the actions against Ma.
This could be just the work of local officials. We can see this by the government's reaction, Lam told the New York Times.
In contrast, Beijing ordained Rev. Joseph Yue Fushen a bishop, in the northern city of Harbin last Friday. Yue had not received papal approval and was subsequently excommunicated.
China broke diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951 over conflicting views about authority in the church hierarchy.
A sizable underground Catholic movement exists within China, though its ties to the Vatican are difficult to confirm given the sensitivity of its activities which bring it into direct opposition with state policies.