TANGSHAN, China — Bishop Paul Liu Jinghe was buried Christmas Eve, ending a tense standoff between government authorities and the local church.
The Asian church news portal ucanews.com reported disagreement about the bishop's burial had escalated since the 92-year-old bishop died Dec. 11. He had demanded burial at Lulong Cemetery, where the diocese's first bishop, Ernst Geurts of Holland, was interred in 1940.
After days of negotiation and the roundup of some local clergy, government negotiators warned Tangshan diocesan leaders that discussions would be closed if they did not accept an alternative plot.
Tangshan Bishop Peter Fang Jingping told ucanews.com that the government effectively ended the dispute by purchasing a plot just smaller than an acre to replace the former cemetery. The appeased parishioners agreed to bury Bishop Liu there.
Bishop Fang denied rumors that the government also paid compensation of 1.5 million yuan ($247,000) to the diocese.
On Dec. 18, after diocesan officials announced they would not bury the bishop until the cemetery was returned, government officials took clergy away for questioning.
Ucanews.com reported that the announcement delaying the burial was made at Bishop Liu's memorial service at Tangshan's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Dec. 17, prompting two minutes of applause from the 3,000 people gathered.
Officials arrived the following morning and took clergy away to offices of the State Administration for Religious Affairs. A source who declined to be named told ucanews.com that the mobile phones of all priests and nuns in Tangshan, east of Beijing, were placed under surveillance.
Lulong Cemetery became a church cemetery after priests and nuns were later buried there, but it was wrecked during political turmoil in the 1950s, shortly after the communists took power.
Since then, it has been used as farmland, and in 1993, with the government's permission, Bishop Liu reburied Bishop Geurts and other clergy in a corner of the 6.6-acre site.
The late bishop had demanded the return of the site several times during his lifetime. After he died, the diocese began negotiations with authorities but eventually rejected an offer of 200,000 yuan ($33,000) to buy an alternative plot to bury Bishop Liu.
To return the cemetery, authorities would have to compensate people who farm the site.
Church members took turns guarding the bishop's body inside Tangshan Cathedral as they awaited a solution to the dispute.