Vatican City (AFP) - A Chinese bishop who was removed from his diocese and held by authorities in detention for seven months has been freed, the Vatican said Friday.
Last June the Holy See had expressed "grave concern" for Peter Shao Zhumin, saying he was being held in an unknown location and had been missing for some time.
His friends said they feared the authorities were trying to force him to switch from the underground church recognised by the Vatican to the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
The bishop was released on January 3, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said.
According to the specialist religious website Asianews.it, Shao had been detained on May 18 after being "invited" to attend an interview with officials of the local Religious Affairs Bureau.
His disappearance sparked a public spat between the Vatican and China, complicating discussions aimed at improving relations long strained by differences over who has the authority to appoint bishops in the country.
Complicating matters, CPCA clergy chosen by the Communist Party are sometimes accepted by Rome, while Vatican-appointed bishops are not recognised by the government but are sometimes tolerated.
China is estimated to have about 12 million practising Catholics divided between the official and the underground branches of the Church.