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Vatican steps up criticism of China over arrests of Catholics

The Vatican has issued a strong denunciation of religious repression in China because of fears that 23 Catholics - including eight priests - have been arrested, and some ordered to undergo enforced re-education.

One aged bishop is understood to have died in prison.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls criticised China for arresting the eight priests and two seminary students in Hebei province in August.

"The reasons for such repressive measures have not been made known to the Holy See," he said. "If the received news turns out to be true, we find ourselves once again faced with a grave violation of freedom of religion, which is a fundamental right of man."

Two of the priests were sentenced to "a period of re-education through forced labour," while others, detained in Baoding diocese, had not yet been released, Mr Navarro-Valls said in a statement over the weekend.

So far, the Vatican has not been told the reasons for the arrests.

"According to the information received here, as of September 6, 2004, the number of clergy members of the Baoding diocese detained or deprived of liberty is 23, including a bishop and his auxiliary who disappeared in 1996 and 1997," he said.

The reported arrests are the latest in a string of detentions of Catholic priests and bishops, some of whom run underground seminaries in unofficial churches and private homes, remaining loyal to the Vatican in a communist state which does not recognise the Pope's authority.

Vatican steps up criticism of China over arrests of Catholics (The Guardian/Associated Press 13/9/04)

Vatican Wants Bishops and Priests Freed in China (Zenit 12/9/04)
Holy See denounces death of Chinese bishop in prison and demands release of those under arrest (Catholic News Agency 13/9/04)
Vatican protests of Chinese clerics' arrest (Catholic World News 13/9/04)
Statement on arrests of Catholic priests, faithful in China (Vatican Information Service 13/9/04)

14 Sep 2004