Two Chinese underground priests detained after giving interview to Italian journalist

Two priests from China's underground Catholic Church have been detained, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency said. The two had reportedly just given a rare interview to a foreign journalist.

The AsiaNews missionary agency reported Friday that the Revs. Shao Zhumin and Paul Jiang Sunian, from the underground church in Wenzhou on China's southeast coast, were detained Thursday after celebrating Mass.

The report said the detentions were unusual because the situation of underground priests in Wenzhou had been "calm" for some time.

On Friday, however, the Italian newsweekly Espresso published a two-page article in which it said it had interviewed the two priests, as well as a third, and that they had "risked arrest" by speaking to a foreign journalist.

The article said that two days after the interview was conducted, Chinese police followed the reporter and took her interpreter to the police station.

In the interview, the priests spoke of previous detentions, with Shao saying he had been asked after his Sept. 7, 1999, detention to make a declaration "to evaluate whether I had become patriotic."

China allows worship in government-controlled churches and appoints its own priests and bishops. Chinese Catholics who meet outside the sanctioned churches are frequently harassed by authorities.

Pope Benedict XVI has been reaching out to the Beijing government in hopes of restoring diplomatic relations and bringing all of China's estimated 12 million Catholics under Rome's wing, AP reported. V.A.

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