China's largest Catholic diocese Shanghai has been left in a state of disarray after newly ordained Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin was placed under house arrest for speaking out against the Communist Party, the UK Telegraph reports.
The crisis has exposed the fault lines that remain between the Vatican and Beijing, and has been described as the worst faced by the church for decades.
The problems started on July 7 last year, when Thaddeus Ma Daqin, Shanghai's newly ordained auxiliary bishop, infuriated Party officials and stunned congregants and clergy by using his ordination to renounce the Patriotic Association, a Beijing-controlled organ that controls the Chinese Church.
Since then, Ma – who had been in line to take over as Shanghai's next bishop – has been under house arrest at a seminary in the city's suburbs.
The crisis was compounded in April when Shanghai's incumbent bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian, died at the age of 96.
With Bishop Jin gone and no sign of Bishop Ma being released, China's wealthiest and perhaps most important Catholic diocese has been thrown into uncertainty.
Worshippers had been left 'shocked, grief-stricken and anxious overcome with grief and dismay', said Fr Michael Kelly, the head of UCA News, a news agency that covers Catholic issues in Asia. 'It is the worst of times.'
Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian priest who heads the Catholic University of Leuven's Verbiest Institute and has a long-standing relationship with China's Catholic Church said: 'The confrontation may be more sharp than [at any time] in the last 30 years. [Shanghai's church] has no shepherd leading the flock.'
Fearful of government retributions, those who work and worship within Shanghai's Catholic Church are reluctant to openly discuss the crisis enveloping their community.
But one source in the city's Catholic community said the diocese was facing a 'defining moment'.
'We don't know what the government's next step will be. We don't know what the church's next step will be,' said the source. 'It is really about power,' said the insider. 'It is all about control and a fear of Rome's influence. We can be good Catholics and good Chinese citizens. We love our country. But in this country you can only love the country if you also love the Party. Many Chinese Catholics love the country but not the Party.'
Shanghai's Catholic Church in disarray (UK Telegraph)