In May, two Chinese nuns at the Vatican mission in Hong Kong were arrested by Beijing authorities on a visit home to the Hebei province, Reuters reported, citing interviews with three Catholic clerics.
The nuns, each in their mid-40s, were released into house arrest after being held for three weeks. None faced charges but are prohibited from leaving mainland China. According to Reuters, China has ramped up its surveillance of the unofficial Hong Kong Vatican mission this year, as Beijing strengthens its grip on the once-free, flourishing city.
One cleric reportedly told Reuters that “it is highly unusual for nuns to be detained,” noting that while priests are sometimes arrested in mainland China, nuns are “normally” left alone.
“Senior members of the clergy in Hong Kong told Reuters that Beijing is trying to expand its control over the diocese, in part by influencing the choice of the city’s next bishop, a position that’s been open since the last bishop’s death two years ago,” Reuters reported. “Beijing, they said, is seeking to apply to Hong Kong a two-year-old agreement with the Holy See that gives the Chinese government a significant say in the appointment of prelates on the mainland.”
Hong Kong was excluded from the agreement because of its status as a semi-autonomous region.
The Art Deco villa in Hong Kong is the Vatican’s unofficial diplomatic mission and its only political outpost in China. As China escalates its clampdown on Hong Kong, however, the mission, which keeps a low profile, has become another target. Many of the church’s members in Hong Kong, Reuters reported, “staunchly support the city’s democracy movement.”
Hundreds of protesters have been arrested this year as they assembled in opposition to China’s imposed dominance in the region, which was implemented in part by a new national security law criminalizing dissent with harsh penalties, such as potential life in prison. Execution of the strict measures have even reached into university classrooms in the United States at Harvard and Princeton, according to the Wall Street Journal.