Roof of a Catholic Church in Beijing. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)
Roof of a Catholic Church in Beijjing. (Photo: World Watch Monitor)

A prominent Chinese priest sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing money from a retirement home was framed by government officials, his supporters have claimed.

Government-approved Fr. Fei Jisheng, from the province of Liaoning in north-east China, was sentenced by a court in the city of Gaizhou, along with a layman, He Xianmin, who was given one year’s probation.

Both men were ordered to pay the Catholic Church in Gaizhou 121,200 yuan (US$18,435), the amount the two men were accused of stealing.

A source close to Fr. Fei told the Catholic UCA news service that local Catholics and clergy believe Fr Fei was targeted because he ran a non-approved evangelism programme, the Apostolic Class. Now in its eleventh year, the programme is especially popular in the north-eastern provinces of Liaoning and Hebei.

The source said the Bishop of Liaoning, Pei Junmin, tried to communicate with the provincial religious affairs bureau and the United Front Work Department about the case, but to little avail.

Fr. Fei’s family were not able to attend any of his three court hearings, which were held behind closed doors, UCA reported.