A Chinese Roman Catholic bishop has been freed from detention in China following protests by the Vatican. Rome based Asianews reported today, that Bishop Wei Jingyi, the bishop of Qiqihar, was released on Sunday after almost two weeks in detention. The Vatican had expressed dismay at the arrest and called on the Chinese government to explain the grounds for the bishop's detention. According to Asianews, up to 50 Roman Catholic bishops and priests are currently serving gaol terms or otherwise prevented from carrying out their ministry in China. The Roman Catholic Church has been forced to operate underground as the government has intensified its persecution of independent religious groups. Bishop Wei has already endured two spells in labour camps totalling more than four years during the eighties and nineties. In theory Chinese law guarantees a degree of religious freedom, but the Communist government forbids all worship outside state-backed "patriotic" religious groups which it effectively controls. China broke links with the Vatican soon after the Communists took sole control of the country. During the 1950's the government expelled foreign clergy and established its own state approved "Catholic church", the China Patriotic Catholic Association, which pledges loyalty to Beijing rather than the Pope. Despite continual harassment and arrest of its priests and members, the Roman Catholic Church in China claims an estimated eight million worshippers, double the total for the government approved body.
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