A Catholic bishop in China is reportedly on the run from state authorities after refusing to register with the state-sponsored Church. Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin is believed to be in hiding in the diocese of Mindong after leaving the residence of the local state-sponsored bishop.

Bishop Guo is considered a leader in the Chinese underground Catholic Church, which refuses to submit to the state-sponsored Church which is in turn under the authority of the Chinese Communist Party. Priests in China are required to register with the government in order to be able to minister openly. In the process of doing so, they are expected to acknowledge the government’s policy of “sinicization.”

According to Asia News, on November 9, Guo was placed under the supervision of two state security officials and visited daily in an attempt to force him to sign an act of registration with the state.

On November 12, officials attempted to compel Guo to attend a meeting of “independent” clergy of the diocese with a view to bringing them in line with the state-sanctioned Church. Asia News reports that the majority of the diocese’s priests have refused to sign the act of registration with the Communist-backed Church. When Guo refused, he was taken to the Mindong diocesan chancery in Ningde to meet with Bishop Vincent Zhan Silu, who was expected to “convince” him to sign the formal submission to the state-Church.

Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal, agreed in 2018. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials say over the appointment of bishops and the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice, the Holy See recognized the communist-approved Bishop Zhan, who had previously been considered an excommunicated schismatic, as the diocesan bishop, and compelled Guo to accept the position of auxiliary bishop in his own diocese.

In June, the Vatican issued “pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China.” While recognizing the need to continue efforts to normalize relations between the Catholic community and government authorities, the document “respects the choice” of priests who refuse to register with the state.

“For some time, requests have been received by the Holy See from Bishops in mainland China for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration,” the document says, noting that “many pastors remain deeply disturbed [at] the modality of such registration.”

The Holy See also noted that the act of registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”

If, the Vatican said, “the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” priests should specify - in writing if possible, or else in front of witnesses – that the declaration is made only to the extent it is “faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”

Guo has previously been arrested for refusing to participate in public events with Zhan. In February, Guo told the New York Times that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”

But he also indicated that while “the Chinese government doesn’t say explicitly that we need to disconnect” from Rome, “in some circumstances it has such an implication.”

Asia News reports that on November 13, Guo “escaped” from the chancery and returned to his home town of Luojiang where it is belived state authorities are attempting to locate him.

The Diocese of Mingdong is home to 90,000 Catholics, 80,000 of whom are affiliated with the “underground Church,” as are 57 of the diocese’s 69 priests.