The clergy who refuse to be controlled by the state are harassed by authorities, subjected to indoctrination to make them join the Patriotic Church.
by An Xin
To exert pressure on the clergy who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau in Fuzhou, the capital of the southeastern province of Fujian, organized a conference in the city’s Yongtai county on August 27-29.
The priests from Fuqing city, which is part of the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, declined to participate, demonstrating their unwillingness to be controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. Their absence from the conference didn’t go unnoticed, of course. Local officials organized crackdowns on the churches where the “disobedient” priests serve, closing down the venues, intimidating clergy and congregation members.
After the Vatican-China deal of 2018, the Vatican allowed Catholic priests to join the CPCA but said that the conscientious objectors who refuse to do so should be “respected.”
Venues shut down, water and electricity supply cut off
In early November, officials from Fuqing’s State Security Bureau and the government of Chengtou, a town administered by Fuqing, came to a local Catholic seminary to inform its management that it was “an illegal organization.” They forcibly removed the seminary’s electric meter, cut off its water and electricity supply, and drove out the priests and believers. To monitor the venue and prevent anyone from entering it, a surveillance camera was installed at an intersection leading to the seminary.
On November 2, a Catholic meeting venue in Fuqing’s Honglu sub-district was closed after its electricity was also cut off. A week later, a Catholic church in Beilin village, administered by the city’s Yangxia town, succumbed to the same fate.
At the end of October, officials closed down a Catholic church in Chengtou and installed a surveillance camera at the entrance to the venue, threatening to arrest anyone who dares to get inside.
In Longtian, a Fuqing city-administered town, local officials closed down a Catholic church, telling the congregation that Chinese people are not allowed “to believe in the Vatican’s religion” because “the Chinese government does not allow them this freedom.” They threatened to arrest the churchgoers should they gather to worship God again.
On October 27, more than a dozen officials from the city’s Religious Affairs Bureau, Urban Management Bureau, and other government departments stormed into a Catholic church on Yuping street in Fuqing. They took photos of every corner of the church.
“Every Sunday, law enforcement officer come to surveil us, keeping watch over whether any priest comes to celebrate Mass. This is curbing the development of Catholicism,” a congregation member told Bitter Winter. “There is no freedom of religion or speech in China. The government has the final say on everything. You just have to listen and follow the Communist Party.”
According to preliminary calculations, at least 60 Catholic venues have been closed in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou over the past few months, 50 of which are located in Fuqing city.
Priests subjected to indoctrination
On October 27, after a priest from Jiangjing town under the jurisdiction of Fuqing repeatedly refused to sign the application to join the CPCA, he was summoned by the local Religious Affairs Bureau and the town government. He was held for nine hours. The officials ordered the priest to listen to the government, or his clergy qualifications would be annulled.
According to a local official, any priest who refuses to join the CPCA will be regarded as the head of a xie jiao organization. The governments of several towns started demanding leaders of villages under their jurisdiction to go to churches for inspections every Sunday and report to the police if any priests who are not members of the CPCA are celebrating Mass.
“The Communist Party is atheist. Is it qualified to lead Catholics?” a local priest commented on the CCP’s bid to fully control the Catholic Church in China. He encourages believers to be patient and wait, not join the CPCA and submit to government’s control; otherwise, it would equal to surrender, the priest believes. For the time being, he prefers holding meetings in secret or the homes of congregation members. “It’s like fighting guerrilla warfare with the Communist Party,” the priest added.
“I believe in God for the salvation of my soul,” a local churchgoer told Bitter Winter. “The CCP forces us to join the CPCA, which it controls, sing the national anthem, and hang the national flag in churches. This is against God’s will. The government is playing with us, demands to prove our love for the country, and only believe in the Communist Party.”
The pressure on Catholic clergy to “transform” them and make them join the Patriotic Church has also been accelerating in other archdioceses across China. According to a government insider in the central province of Henan, local governments started employing the so-called “five-on-one control system,” which has until now been used primarily on members of banned religious groups and movements, like The Church of Almighty God. In the case of Catholic conscientious objectors, the UFWD, Public Security Bureau, Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, the township government, and village committee, each assign a person to a group that jointly works to re-educate them. They regularly summon priests for “targeted ideological transformation” meetings and closely monitor them.