CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 16 February 2019

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Priest tried but no verdict given

HONG KONG (UCAN): Supporters of Father Fei Jisheng, from Liaoning in China, who faced trial over allegations of embezzlement in northern China, insist he was actually arrested on trumped up charges because of the evangelical work he has been involved in.

They say they are now even more concerned as no verdict has been so far announced by the court.

Father Fei was arrested and charged with stealing money from a retirement home in Fushun City on October 18 last year. He was tried behind closed doors on March 21 in a court in Gaizhou in Yingkou, a city in northeastern Liaoning province.

Police stood guard outside and only four witnesses and Father Fei’s lawyers were allowed to enter the courtroom, while dozens of people gathered outside singing hymns and praying. His friends are especially worried that no verdict has been handed down yet.

“Now we were told that Father Fei has stolen a money box from a home for elderly people,” Father Dong Hongchang, the vicar general of Liaoning, said at the time of his arrest, adding that the real reason may be connected with his work on a programme called the Apostolic Class, an online outreach which Father Fei was promoting enthusiastically. The government views it as an illegal underground organisation.

Father Fei was briefly abducted by the authorities in November 2015 for unstated reasons. Then on June 6 last year he was again detained along with four others for attempting to spread the faith outside of his own diocese. He was released a month later.

A lawyer hired by the diocese met with Father Fei at a detention centre of Gaizhou City on October 24.

The online Evangelisation Group posted an appeal on its WeChat account on October 27 last year giving more details of Father Fei’s arrest.

The chief of police told Father Fei’s lawyer that his case is related to religious issues and is a state secret. The online group claims that Father Fei has now been banned from meeting with his lawyer or relatives and all documents sent to him must go through the hands of the police chief.

The group is questioning how a religious issue can be a state secret and what religious directive the priest has violated.

Unlike the unofficial Church community, which is regarded as outside the law, Father Fei belongs to the government-registered official Church community.

A person who did not wish to be named described the approach of the online outreach as unconventional.

“Their way of evangelisation is more like the Protestant Churches with added elements of the Catholic charismatic movement, which itself is controversial, so the Apostolic Class draws a lot of criticism within the Chinese Church and not everyone accepts it,” the person said.

“Some clergy that do not like the Apostolic Class crossing borders into their parishes or dioceses might ask security officers to crack down on them. This is the complexity of the Church,” the person added.

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