The Chinese government detained a beloved Catholic bishop earlier this week in an apparent attempt to keep him out of sight around the Easter holidays, just as an end to a decades-long split between Beijing and the Vatican may be in sight.
The bishop, Guo Xijin, is recognized by the Vatican but not by the official Catholic Church in China, which is under government control. Such underground bishops are at the heart of the split. Since the 1950s, the Chinese government has insisted it must approve the selection of bishops, but the Vatican has continued to ordain clergy in secret, leading to overlapping sets of official and underground bishops in some Chinese parishes.
Guo was detained in the days leading up to the Easter holidays after refusing to hold services alongside a government-approved bishop. The Vatican had asked the 59-year-old bishop to step down as a concession to Beijing. According to the most recent reports, Guo is no longer in detention but has not been allowed to return to his duties.
Negotiations between Beijing and the Holy See to end the dueling bishoprics and unify the Church are now underway, and a deal is expected as early as Easter weekend. But Guo’s detention is indicative of exactly what kind of solution the Chinese Communist Party has in mind. Most likely, it will not be a gentle rapprochement with the Vatican so much as a heavy-handed crackdown on the underground church, with the government attempting to neutralize it once and for all.