A U.S.-based Christian rights group says China has detained eight Catholic priests who are loyal to the Vatican. The U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation says Chinese police swept through a small village in Hebei Province last week looking for priests who support the pope.
A statement released by the foundation alleges that 20 police cars surrounded the town, and police then went door to door until they captured the eight men, along with two seminary students.
According to Chinese law, Catholic clergy must profess loyalty to Beijing and not the Vatican.
China established its own Catholic church in the 1950's after the Vatican criticized its human rights record.
Nicolas Becquelin of Human Rights in China says Beijing refuses to allow independent religious organizations to operate on the Mainland.
"China does not recognize freedom of religion," he said. "You can hold a religious belief, personally, but in terms of activities and church organization, everything has to be state controlled."
The Vatican says there are about eight million Chinese Catholics loyal to the Pope, while the number who belong to the Chinese church has been officially put at five million.
Separately, Reuters news service quoted the Buddhist Foundation of America on Wednesday as saying China had arrested a "living Buddha" for violating Chinese policy on religious practice.
The religious leader was reportedly jailed during a ceremony celebrating a recently renovated Buddhist temple in Inner Mongolia.
Mr. Becquelin says Chinese laws restricting religious activity are all-encompassing, and punishment for violators can be severe. "Technically, anyone who practices religion outside of the state control system is liable to punishment, including administrative detention, sentence to labor camp or even criminal sentences," said Nicolas Becquelin.
But during the 1980's China eased restrictions on religious observation, and rebuilt hundreds of temples, churches, and mosques destroyed during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. The largest religions in China are Buddhism and Taoism.