Police in northern China have arrested four Catholic priests who refused to join the state-controlled Catholic Church, a US-based rights group says.
Liang Aijun, 35, Wang Zhong, 41, and Gao Jinbao, 34 - all from Hebei province - were transferred to an undisclosed location after their capture, the Cardinal Kung Foundation says.
A fourth priest from Hebei, 50-year-old Cui Tai, was taken into custody earlier this month after crashing his motorcycle.
He too had refused to recognise the official church, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
The state-approved church, which has five million members, exists alongside an underground church which counts about 10 million members who remain loyal to Rome.
Organisers of underground churches are routinely arrested and jailed without trial.
The arrests of the four priests came after Pope Benedict XVI, in an open letter to Chinese Catholics issued last month, called on China's atheist Communist Party to respect "authentic religious freedom".
China's official Church was "incompatible with Catholic doctrine," the pontiff also said.
The Vatican has been at loggerheads with China's official Church since it was set up in 1957, after the country's communist rulers severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 over Taiwan.
The Vatican continues to recognise Taiwan.
No responsibility or liability shall attach itself to either myself or to the blogspot ‘Clerical Whispers’ for any or all of the articles placed here.
The placing of an article hereupon does not necessarily imply that I agree or accept the contents of the article as being necessarily factual in theology, dogma or otherwise.