Pei, considered by some the unofficial bishop of Beijing, died Dec. 24 of kidney failure at a hospital in the city of Zhangjiakou, in Hebei province near Beijing, according to the news service of the Vatican's missionary arm, Fides. He had been under house arrest since April and had been under surveillance at the hospital, Fides said.
Pei was one of millions of Chinese Catholics who remained loyal to the pope after the Vatican and Beijing broke formal relations in 1951. The rupture occurred after China's new communist rulers kicked out missionaries and forced Catholics to sever ties with Rome. China's state-sanctioned Patriotic Church doesn't recognize papal authority, including the right to name bishops. Millions of Chinese Catholics still loyal to the pope worship in underground churches where they risk arrest. Leaders of the underground flock have sometimes been imprisoned, some for years.
Pope John Paul II in October appealed to Beijing to normalize relations. China has said it was studying the appeal but says it won't bend on demands that the Holy See sever relations with Taiwan and pledge not to interfere in China's internal affairs.
Pei entered a seminary in Beijing at age 13 and was ordained in May 1948. He later taught in Catholic school in Beijing diocese. When the communists came to power he was forced to work in a drug factory, and was condemned to 10 years of reeducation and forced labor, Fides said. He left prison in 1980.
Pei's funeral will be on Jan. 2 in his hometown Zhangjiapu, in the Zhou Lu district of Hebei province. Fides said police have restricted attendance to village residents, which effectively bars any worshippers from Beijing. There was no information on survivors, according to Fides.