Police arrest Catholic monk from China's underground church in stabbing deaths of priest, nun

BEIJING (AP) — A Catholic monk has confessed to stabbing to death a priest and a nun whose bodies were found at the hospice in northern China where they worked, state media said Friday.

Priest Zhang Shulai and nun Wei Yanhui were both members of China's unauthorized church, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. A report by AsiaNews, a missionary news agency close to the Vatican, said their bodies were found in a pool of blood after they failed to show up for morning Mass on Tuesday.

Monk Zhang Wenping, 43, was arrested Thursday in Hohhot, capital of the Inner Mongolia region, the Xinhua report said, citing a police spokesman in Wuhai city where the hospice is located.

Zhang Wenping told police that he had personal grudges against the priest and nun, Xinhua reported. It did not give details.

Zhang Wenping, like the victims, was also a member of the unauthorized church, said Zhang Pengyao, a local priest in the official church, who confirmed the arrest.

Phones in the administration department of the Wuhai police rang unanswered Friday.

China's Communist government allows worship only in state-approved churches, but many Catholics belong to unregistered congregations. Such "house churches" are subjected to varying degrees of harassment by authorities.

Christians worshipping in China's independent churches are believed to number upward of 60 million, compared with about 20 million people who worship in the state church, according to numbers provided by scholars and church activists.

In a separate case, a U.S.-based group that monitors China's underground churches said an underground bishop, Jia Zhiguo, has been released from his latest detention by authorities.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation said in a statement that Jia, who is based in the northern province of Hebei, was released Wednesday about 15 months after being detained.

At the time, the Vatican denounced his detention and the detentions of other underground priests in China, saying it hurt the Vatican's efforts to improve relations with the Chinese government.

The statement said it was the 13th time Jia had been detained since January 2004.