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Under mobile phone arrest

HONG KONG (UCAN): Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, who as the coadjutor to the late Bishop Vincent Zhu Weifang, from Wenzhou, automatically takes his place as the local ordinary, is effectively being held by the authorities under mobile phone arrest.

Bishop Shao, who belongs to the unofficial Church community in Wenzhou, was in effect blocked by the government from taking over the diocese as the bishop when the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appointed Father Ma Xianshi as the coordinator of a five-member board of diocesan consultors.

Bishop Shao is also being kept under close surveillance. His mobile phone has been confiscated and he has been given a special government-issue model, which doubles as an electronic monitor of his whereabouts at all times of the day and night, as well as a listening device, even when it is not being used.

The telephone effectively means that his priests cannot contact him, leaving him in glorious ecclesiastical isolation from all diocesan and Church business.

Father Paul Jiang Sunian, Bishop Shao’s chancellor in the unofficial community, who was taken on gardening leave to Yunnan when Bishop Zhu died and kept away from the funeral, was also asked to surrender his telephone.

However, he refused to do so, saying that his father is sick in hospital and that he can’t do without it.

Bishop Shao had his telephone taken from him during his gardening leave in Qunghai.

A local person said, “Bishop Shao’s cell phone was confiscated and he was given a new one to upload photographs. The official said they would also apply for a new WeChat account for him.”

On September 7, the day that Bishop Zhu died, two photographs showing the bishop hale and hearty in the picturesque countryside were uploaded on the new account with the caption saying that he was appreciating the wonders of God’s creation.

Father Ma is in charge of a board to handle all internal appointments of clergy and on the day that Bishop Zhu was buried, September 13, the board held a meeting, followed by another one two days later.

The saga in Wenzhou underscores the complexity of the negotiations currently going on between the Vatican and representative of Beijing over the appointment of bishops in China.

Local Catholics believe that the government has its eyes on Father Ma as its anointed choice to take over the role of bishop from Bishop Zhu.

The Vatican confirmed that Bishop Shao is the rightful successor of the late bishop in a press release on September 21.

“In accordance with canon law, Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, coadjutor of the same diocese, succeeds the deceased prelate (bishop),” the press release says.

The scene seems set for a showdown and no doubt pressure is being applied to the bishop of the unofficial community to come out of the cold and join the Patriotic Association, as his predecessor did in 2010.

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