China: Authorities abduct, torture priest to force state conversion

Catholics sing on Christmas eve at a church in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, December 24, 2015.
Catholics sing on Christmas eve at a church in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, China, December 24, 2015. | (Photo: Reuters/Jon Woo)

Communist authorities in China have abducted and tortured a 46-year-old priest in the southeastern province of Fujian for refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, according to reports.

Father Liu Maochun from the Diocese of Mindong was ruthlessly tortured, according to Bitter Winter, a magazine that reports on religious liberty and human rights in China.

Officers banged a “gong beside his ear and shone a bright light into his eyes for several consecutive days—a torture method known as ‘exhausting an eagle’ when people are deprived of sleep for a long time,” the magazine said, quoting a source in the diocese.

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Liu Maochun, who assists the diocese’s auxiliary bishop Guo Xijin, was taken away by police on Sept. 1 while he was visiting patients in a hospital. He was reportedly taken to a detention house in the county-level city of Fu’an.

“The government claimed that Fr. Liu Maochun has disobeyed its rule and was ‘ideologically radical,’” the source was quoted as saying.

Bishop Guo had also refused to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. The government earlier pressured a deacon in the diocese, threatening to demolish his house and sack his children if he further supported Guo’s refusal to join the Patriotic Church, the magazine said.

An insider in the Fu’an city government told the magazine that the authorities suspect that Fr. Maochun may have shared information with foreign media about another priest, Fr. Huang, who too was tortured for not joining the Patriotic Church.

China has an estimated 12 million Catholics and two major groupings, those registered with the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and an underground church of Catholics, who reject state control, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Vatican signed an agreement with China in 2018 on the leadership of the Catholic Church, after which tensions between the authorities and diocesan priests increased. The Vatican is now seeking to renew that agreement, overlooking concerns over religious freedom and human rights.

Christian human rights groups and some Catholic bishops have voiced their concerns with the Vatican’s decision. While certain details of the deal remain unknown, reports of the agreement indicate that Chinese officials submit a candidate for bishop to the Vatican and the pope has final say over the matter.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a United Nations-accredited persecution watchdog, has also signaled its concerns about the deal.

“CSW is deeply concerned about the timing of this provisional agreement between the Chinese government and the Vatican,” CSW’s East Asia team leader, Benedict Rogers, said in a statement. “While we understand some of the motivations behind the Vatican's effort toward an agreement, there are significant concerns about the implications for freedom of religion or belief in China.”

Rogers added that if the agreement was to have “real value,” the deal itself must have freedom of religion or belief as one of its central components. “We reiterate our call on the Chinese authorities to release all Catholics in China held in any form of detention, and all others detained in connection with their peaceful religious activities.”

China has been cracking down on underground churches and Christian activists for years.

In 2015, more than 1,000 crosses were removed from church roofs and entire church buildings were destroyed across the Zhejiang province.

The Chinese government continued its campaign against Christianity during the country’s coronavirus outbreak by destroying crosses and demolishing a church while people were on lockdown.

More than 60 million Christians live in China, at least half of whom worship in unregistered or so-called illegal underground churches.

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