2024 began on a disturbing note for Chinese Catholics. Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, the 61-year-old Vatican-approved ordinary of the Diocese of Wenzhou in Eastern China, was taken into custody by Chinese authorities on January 2, according to AsiaNews.
Bishop Shao is loyal to the Holy See rather than the Chinese state church and was appointed by the Vatican, not the Communist-Party-controlled “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
Because he is not recognized by the Chinese government, he is routinely jailed by local authorities to prevent him from carrying out his ministry.
Bishop Shao was set to be installed as the new senior Bishop of Zhejiang (Wenzhou), with a Catholic population of approximately 120,000.
According to a source for Asia News, when security forces took Bishop Shao into custody, “He was ordered to take clothes for spring, summer, autumn, and winter. This suggests that his situation is not promising and that he will probably be held for a long time. The faithful are worried because they don’t even know where he will be detained.”
Bishop Shao was ordained coadjutor bishop with a papal mandate in 2011, and succeeded Bishop Vincent Zhu Wei-Fang when the latter passed away in September 2016.
However, by refusing to join official bodies imposed by the government on Chinese Catholics, he has never been recognised by the authorities. Considering the see vacant, the government put in charge of the diocese a member of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, Father Ma Xianshi.
His arrest came later, following a new letter from Bishop Shao to Father Ma on 31 December, protesting the decisions made about the diocese without his authority.
His letter reads in part,”I have written to you expressing my desire to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss solutions to some of the complex problems of the diocese at this time.”
“Your answer was that it was not convenient for you to meet me. So I am writing to ask you to pass on my opinions to my brother priests and to parishioners.”
“In 2019, without my permission, there was a change in parishes and a transfer of priests from this Church, and the unauthorised downgrading of the Diocese of Lishui to parish status under the Diocese of Wenzhou.”
“After four years, I read again about a division of parishes and the transfer of priests (decided by Fr Ma for 6 January) without the bishop’s permission. I wrote to you immediately to ask for a nomination.”
“The same applies to the promotion of seminarians. According to the law of the Church, it is necessary to be ordained personally by the bishop of the diocese or to have power of attorney from him.”