Although the Holy See has demanded that the CCP “respect” those who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, they keep being harassed and punished.
by An Xin
On June 28, the Vatican issued pastoral guidelines concerning the civil registration of clergy in China. The document states that “the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register [as members of the Patriotic Association] under the current conditions.” However, authorities in Fuzhou city of the southeastern province of Fujian continue to intensify their crackdown on the conscientious objectors who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), using threats and promises and claiming (inaccurately) that the Vatican has asked all priests and bishops to register as CPCA members.
Blatant provocation against the Vatican
The United Front Work Department in Fuzhou issued a notice in May, demanding Catholic conscientious objectors to apply for “identity conversion” – i.e., to join the CPCA until the end of the month. As per the notice, a deadline was set every five days from May 15 to 30, and the clergy would be treated differently depending on when they submitted their application. If one applied after May 20, they would not be allowed to engage in any clerical activities; for those members of the clergy that wouldn’t apply until May 30, the state would revoke their priesthood privileges.
In late May, following consultations, Bishop Lin Jiashan of the Archdiocese of Fuzhou decided to let all priests in his jurisdiction sign the application after parts of its content were revised. However, the authorities refused to recognize signatures on the revised agreement and continued to apply pressure on the clergy to sign the agreement in its original form.
According to a believer in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, in July, a priest from the Archdiocese was summoned for a “discussion” by the government officials and ordered to sign an application to join the CPCA. The priest said that he could only sign the document if it did not go against the Catholic doctrine. The officials tried to lure him by promising a position of bishop in the near future. “You just need to take the lead and sign it,” the officials pressured.
Father Guo Jinming from the parish of Fuqing in Fuzhou was also forced to join the CPCA in July after he was threatened with arrest, according to a priest who asked to remain anonymous. The authorities had kept Father Guo under constant surveillance since December 2015. In November that year, he was detained for a month after he was supposed to meet Father Yu Heping (1975–2015) from the Diocese of Ningxia for a four-day national evangelistic conference in Liaoning Province. Before the meeting, Father Yu Heping suddenly disappeared and later died a mysterious death.
The authorities also canceled the clerical activities of priests and prohibited them from holding Mass in every church of Fuqing until everyone joined the CPCA.
A churchgoer told Bitter Winter that even after the Vatican issued his latest directives, the Chinese government continues to intimidate Catholic conscientious objectors into joining the CPCA. Contrary to the text of the directives, conscientious objectors are not “respected” at all.
Underground meeting venues frequently shut down
The authorities are also intensifying the closure of underground meeting venues where those who refused to register as CPCA members continue to gather.
In early April, the government closed an underground Catholic meeting venue under the pretext that “the intersection is too small, and the meeting venue would obstruct traffic.” The venue’s landlord was threatened to be arrested if he refused to obey.
At the end of May, the Minye meeting venue was shut down because the authorities claimed that it was holding “illegal religious activities” and that it “violated building laws.”
The person in charge of the Fanchuanpu meeting venue was warned to be fined 30,000 to 200,000 RMB (between $ 4,300 and 29,000) and arrested if he continued holding gatherings. The meeting venue was forced to close down.
In mid-June, the authorities shut down a meeting venue in Xiangmei residential area, claiming that gatherings in the church would affect students’ learning in the nearby schools.
“The government coerces Catholic conscientious objectors into joining the CPCA. If they don’t obey, the ensuing situation will be even more severe. When necessary, the CCP will use force, threaten us. We need to be prepared to be arrested,” said a local churchgoer.
A local priest agreed with these sentiments, adding that the CCP’s objective isn’t unification, but transformation. “If we sign to obey the government and the leadership of the CPCA, then we have to do as they say. If you agree to be fooled by them, in the end, you will believe in Catholicism in the name only –. in fact, you will believe in the Communist Party.”