Over 100 priests and the Archdiocese’s Apostolic Administrator joined the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association only after fighting for as long as they could.
by Ye Ling
In May, the government coerced Lin Yuntuan, a former Apostolic Administrator appointed by the Vatican to the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, and more than 100 priests to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), threatening to arrest any clergy members who refuse to submit to the government’s control.
After the signing of Vatican-China Deal of 2018, the CCP has been pressuring all Catholic clergy to join the CPCA. Those who refuse are being persecuted, often arrested, their churches are frequently harassed, religious symbols destroyed, and many are eventually shut down. On June 28, the Vatican released new guidelines stating that the Holy See will not mandatorily require Catholic conscientious objectors to join the CPCA.
According to a source in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, by signing the government-drafted application agreement, the diocese clergy were to accept the principle of an “independent, autonomous, and self-administered” Catholic Church and obey the leadership of the CPCA. The authorities threatened some priests to demolish their churches if they refused to sign, while others were promised leniency for their support of what was known the Underground Church. “If you join the CPCA, we won’t make any trouble for you. Don’t be stubborn. Otherwise, you will be hit hard!” the officials professed in conversations with the clergy.
Administrator Lin has refused to be affiliated with the Chinese government for a long time, emphasizing the need to keep in touch with the Roman Catholic Church. The least the administrator and the priests could do was to attempt modifying the content of the application to join the CPCA, following the precedent in the Diocese of Mindong in the southern province of Fujian. Before signing it, the Bishop of Mindong, Msgr. Guo Xijin, insisted on inserting preconditions regarding the purity of faith.
Similarly, two terms were added to the application agreements with the clergy of Fuzhou, namely, not to violate the principles of Catholic conscience and faith, and maintain contacts with the Roman Catholic Church. After making these revisions, they all signed the agreement and submitted it to the bishop.
The revised agreement was unacceptable to the Chinese authorities. They continued to harass the priests into signing the original text, claiming that they should do what is ordered by the central government. Threats and intimidations continued, the government applying pressure on the clergy, employing a “one-person-one-policy contracting system” – when several officials are pressuring one priest at a time. “You are legitimate only when the central government makes you legitimate,” the officials reproached the priests.
But Administrator Lin and the priests persevered. According to one of the priests from the diocese, they sent the draft agreement to the Representative of the Holy See in Hong Kong, Msgr. Javier Herrera Corona, who reportedly stated that the government-prepared application agreement could not be signed.
The priests and Administrator Lin managed to stand their ground and signed the agreements with the added preconditions at the end of May.
“All the priests uniformly signed the agreement, mainly, to prevent the CCP from ‘dividing and conquering’ and disintegrating the diocese from within,” a priest explained.
From May to June, at least ten Catholic meeting venues that were not part of the Patriotic Catholic Church in Fuzhou city were forcibly shut down by the local government on the grounds that they “violated building laws.” Before the closures, “religious liaison officers” and neighborhood committee officials were dispatched to sneak into churches secretly to obtain information.
On June 9, numerous personnel were sent to guard the entrance to a Catholic church in Fuzhou, prohibiting congregation members from entering to worship. To prevent believers from entering the church without the authorities noticing, the church’s lock cylinder was filled with glue. Neighborhood committee and village committee officials and police patrolled around the church for days.
“Officials from the provincial Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, the local police station, the sub-district and community offices frequently come to put pressure on us now,” the church director said with a sense of helplessness. “They often take photos or summon us for ‘ideological transformation.’ The CCP makes us break away from religion and submit to the government.”
A priest who requested anonymity compared the negotiations between the Vatican and China to a lamb bargaining with a hungry wolf. “The CCP is a dictatorship. Every day that the Communist Party is in power is a day without freedom of belief, and we will continue to be persecuted,” the priest said, adding that the CCP isn’t just targeting Catholicism, but is attempting to control and eradicate all religions. “The CCP’s actions violate not only international law but also the Chinese Constitution.”