BISHOP Deng Yiming of Canton, who remained loyal to the Vatican when a government-backed Chinese church was established, was freed last week after 22 years in prison.
His release was reported in the local newspapers but was not mentioned in the national press or by the New ('hina news agency. Instead al the weekend the People's Daily, the main Chinese paper, said that religious freedom in the country could only he guaranteed by official supervision of religious activities.
The paper said that believers could not be allowed to put their religious beliefs before the unity of the country and added: "Some people want only freedom and don't like supervision. They think that supervision is interference and incompatible with the policy of freedom of religious belief.
"We carry out supervision of religious activities in order to make sure that religious belief can be made even freer."
The comments have been seen as a definitive statement of the government's attitude towards religion. They show the problems that still stand in the way of any attempts by the Vatican to restore full relations with the Chinese Church.
Bishop Deng is believed to be the first Catholic bishop among those priests jailed in the 1950s to be set free. He was arrested in 1958 on charges of "counterrevolutionary activity," which included one of accepting his post from the Vatican, which was regarded as an imperialist power.
He was also alleged to have threatened to excommunicate Catholics who joined the government s inspired Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics.
The announcement of his release was accompanied by a statement saying that he had repented of his "crimes" and undergone "re-education".
"Under the education of the people's government, Deng liming has admitted his guilt, his attitude is passable and he has shown himself willing to repent and mend his ways. Now the Canton People's public prosecutor's office has decided to give clemency to Deng Yining," the statement said.
The Vatican still regards Bishop Deng as the Bishop of Canton but the Patriotic Association, which appoints its own bishops, has replaced him in Canton.