China criticized for attack on nuns and arrest of priests
The Vatican has protested strongly against the arrest and beating of Roman Catholic nuns which led to 600 Christians taking to the streets to demonstrate in Xian City, north west China, last week.
The All India Catholic Union (AICU), the largest and oldest organisation of lay Catholics in Asia, has also expressed its concern and anger at the incidents.
Fr Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Vatican press office, described two separate incidents over the past fortnight. The first was the beating of Franciscan nuns in Xian, capital of Shaanxi Province, and the second involved the violent detention of six priests in Zhengding diocese.
On November 23, a group of 40 men armed with wood polls attacked 16 nuns involved in a sit-in against plans to demolish the Diocesan School of the Rosary.
The Xian authorities took over the school in 1952 and left it vacant a few years ago. They recently sold it to a developer.
The Church says that this violates Chinese law, under which it should be returned to them. In the 1980s, the Chinese government adopted a law whereby property confiscated during the Cultural Revolution should be returned to its rightful owners.
However, many convents, schools and hospitals have not yet been returned. There are accusations that some have been passed out to senior Communist Party figures.
The Religious Affairs Bureau in Xian, which is an organ of the state managing the public role of faith bodies, has intervened on the part of the developer in accordance with instructions from higher authorities.
Following last Sunday's Catholic rally, the Xian City authorities offered to sell the land to the Church for 6.5 million yuan (some 800,000 US dollars).
Mgr Dang Minyan, the auxiliary bishop of Xian, agreed to discuss the issue. But many laity and priests see the transaction as illegitimate.
It is reported by sources in China that the authorities are concerned that the nuns' protests and diocese's demands could set a precedent for other communities.
Land disputes are escalating under the 2004 constitutional change recognising private property, as a result of breakneck urban development, and because of programmes to upgrade downtown areas ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games.
As part of this process, the government has granted developers the right to seize land and expel residents and owners.
Meanwhile the Xian City authorities have promised to pay compensation to the five nuns still hospitalised as result of the attack, although they will still have to foot medical fees.
Catholics now fear a further clampdown as a result of the protests. But with China keen to benefit from the Olympics and further its economic leverage, the government is also under pressure to extend religious and civic freedom.
This was one of the issues raised by US President Bush on his recent visit to the country.
In a separate development, Manfred Nowak, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has said that its use is still widespread in China, in spite of an official ban in 1996.
[Also on Ekklesia: Chinese churches face challenges of growth; Rice urges China to expand religious freedoms; Christians urged to speak up over Tibet; Dalai lama urges Christians not to convert to Buddhism; Support Chinese Christians, British and Irish churches urged]