A Catholic Crackdown

What could be so threatening about an 80-year-old Roman Catholic archbishop that Beijing would need 150 police to arrest him? Two weeks ago, according to the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation, authorities hauled in John Yang Shudao, who'd previously spent nearly three decades in prison. It was the latest assault in the Communist Party's war against Catholics who refuse to denounce the pope as their supreme authority. At least eight bishops have been detained since August, according to the foundation, a human-rights monitoring group. Dozens of clerics have disappeared and several underground churches have been torched or blown up.

There's more here than meets the eye. The detentions coincide with private talks between Beijing and the Vatican. The two sides broke ties in 1951, when mainland Catholics were pressured to renounce the pope and join the state-sanctioned "patriotic" church. The Holy See still has an embassy in Taipei, but last year a Vatican official said the church was ready to recognize Beijing "if Chinese authorities permit." This month he confirmed "a new mechanism for exchanging information." By cracking down, Beijing may hope to neutralize the pro-Vatican underground leadership before normalization. An Aug. 16 Chinese Communist Party policy paper, leaked by the Vatican news service Fides, advocated a crackdown on believers because the Vatican would try to "take advantage of normalization" by enhancing papal authority. That attitude, said a Fides editorial, "confirms the obtuseness of the regime in understanding full religious liberty." The archbishop's arrest raises some doubts, too.