VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Unknown assailants wielding iron bars, clubs and bricks attacked a group of priests in a Chinese city after the priests staged a sit-in and occupied a building in protest over a property dispute, according to an Italian-based missionary news agency.
Reports by AsiaNews said at least six priests and one woman suffered serious injuries after more than 30 thugs beat them and others Dec. 16 in the seaport city of Tianjin in northern China.
A Vatican official told Catholic News Service Dec. 20 that the Vatican was seeking to confirm the veracity and details of the reports from its representatives in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Archbishop Robert Sarah, secretary of the Vatican Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, said the reports of violence needed to be verified before issuing a comment so as "not to damage the already delicate relations" between the Vatican and China, which have had no diplomatic ties since 1951.
AsiaNews reported Dec. 19 that members of the dioceses of Taiyuan and Yuci in Shanxi province had traveled to Tianjin to protest the confiscation by government authorities of several buildings in Tianjin that belonged to their dioceses.
The group, which included at least 48 priests and two nuns, took refuge inside the confiscated buildings to rest after staging a sit-in in front of city hall Dec. 15, according to the report by AsiaNews.
While city officials tried to initiate dialogue with the group, "no substantial proposal" came out of the meetings, AsiaNews said.
On Dec. 16 "a group of thugs" appeared at the confiscated building, lured some of the unarmed priests outside and proceeded to beat them.
The mid-December beatings were similar to a Nov. 23 incident in Xi'an, central China, when 16 nuns from the Congregation of the Franciscan Sacred Heart Missionaries were badly beaten after trying to protect an abandoned building from demolition. The building had been a diocesan school run by the nuns.
Many church-owned properties were confiscated by the state during China's 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese government eventually determined that buildings seized during the revolution should be returned to their legitimate owners, but property disputes "have become common occurrences in China," AsiaNews said.
On Nov. 30, the Vatican condemned the violence waged against the nuns, calling it a regrettable incident that prompted "grief and disapproval" and must "be firmly condemned."
The chairman of the U.S. bishops' international policy committee, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski of Orlando, Fla., called for a thorough investigation and sanctions against those responsible for the attacks on Catholic nuns in Xi'an in a Dec. 5 letter to the Chinese ambassador to the United States.
China has an underground church, which has been in existence since the 1950s, when China tried to force Catholics and other Christians to join government-approved "patriotic associations." Although the government-approved church officially spurns ties with the Vatican, church sources say up to 85 percent of the government-approved bishops have reconciled with the Vatican. In many sections of China there is some mingling of the two churches.
- Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops