Missing in (news) action? Seeking coverage of missing underground bishop in China

The end of 2018 is getting closer, and you know what that means. Here come the end-of-the-year features listing the Top 10 stories on a wide variety of topics — including religion.

I expect that one of the most important stories on the global scene will be the Vatican’s decision to accept, just a few weeks ago, a provisional deal with the Chinese government on a process to select bishops.

This was the Communist government’s first indication that it would accept papal authority in the Catholic Church in China. At the same time, Pope Francis agreed to recognize the legitimacy of seven bishops — previously excommunicated — raised up by the Chinese government, alone.

Several inches down into the New York Times report on this topic, there was this important note:

China’s Catholics are divided among those who attend government-approved churches and underground churches that are loyal only to the Vatican.

For decades, many Chinese Catholics have risked arrest and persecution by worshiping in the underground churches led by bishops appointed secretly by popes. China’s Communist government has erected a parallel structure: a state-approved, state-controlled Catholic church. For years, dating back three papacies, the Vatican has sought to unify the two communities.

Later, there was this sobering information:

The Vatican took a step in January in its efforts to unify the two Catholic communities in China, asking two underground bishops to step aside in favor of government-appointed bishops. One of the two preferred by the government was a member of the National People’s Congress, China’s parliament.

The state-sanctioned bishops who took the places of the two underground bishops were among the seven the Vatican formally accepted on Saturday. It was not clear what would become of more than 30 underground bishops working in China who were chosen by the pope but not recognized by the Chinese government.

With that in mind, consider this headline from the conservative Catholic News Agency: “Underground bishop in China reported missing.” And here is the lede:

A Vatican-appointed Chinese bishop has reportedly been taken into custody by the government and is undergoing “isolation and indoctrination.”

Yes, I would like to know the source of those crucial and sobering words — “isolation and indoctrination.”

But here is my main question: If the Vatican deal with the Chinese government is one of the top stories of 2018, then where is the mainstream press coverage of this possibly urgent update?

Let’s read on:

This is Peter Shao Zhumin’s fifth arrest in just two years as a bishop. Chinese police have recently been detaining priests loyal to the underground Catholic Church nationwide.

Pope Francis appointed Shao Bishop of Wenzhou in September 2016. Shao had previously endured an 11-month detention beginning in September 2006, after he and another priest returned from a pilgrimage to Europe and were charged with “illegal exit.” He was detained again during April 2017, ostensibly was to prevent him from celebrating the Triduum and Easter liturgies, which would have been his first time as head of the diocese.

Here’s one more paragraph, from several days ago.

I have been watching for mainstream coverage, you see. Got news?

Bishop Shao has now been missing for several days. During this most recent detention, Asia News reported, the Chinese police have pressured Shao to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Communist Party-supported body that seeks to manage the Church in China independently of the Vatican.

So what do you think? Is this a story worthy of some mainstream news ink?

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