The government offers money to believers to pressure Mindong Diocese’s priests to join the state-run church, seeks to cut off clergy’s contacts with abroad.
by Ye Ling
“Transformation” through slander
The clergy in the Diocese of Mindong, based in Ningde city in the southeastern province of Fujian, who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) continue to suffer the CCP’s threats, coercion, and suppression. Unable to force each and every priest to obey its rule, the regime comes up with new oppressive measures.
On December 20, the government of Saiqi, a town in the county-level city of Fu’an, administered by Ningde, convened a meeting for selected Catholics from the diocese. The participants were told that Catholic priests who refuse to join the CPCA, like Msgr. Guo Xijin, an auxiliary bishop of the diocese, should be “transformed.” They promised that churches would function normally as long as the priests joined the Patriotic Church. The believers were offered monetary rewards if they agreed to ask the priests’ relatives and friends to put pressure on them to join the CPCA. Moreover, the participants were asked to create compromising situations, for example, pretend to be giving money to priests or have women pose as if they are involved with them, and take photos, which would later be used to intimidate them.
According to a government insider, if such methods don’t work, and the priests continue to resist, they will be put under house arrest, and their power and water supply would be cut off. They will be pressured “until they break down, go insane, or even commit suicide.”
The Fengqiao Experience, a method used during the Cultural Revolution to force people to monitor and reform those labeled as “class enemies,” has been revived and is widely used by the current Chinese government to make believers spy on and pressure clergy members. The Compilation of Special Operation Exemplary Cases, an internal document issued by the Henan Province government in July 2018, orders “town and village officials first to conduct ideological work” on Christians’ relatives to persuade their religious family members to separate themselves from religion and no longer participate in religious activities. The document further calls for “efforts be focused on reforming the ideologies of missionaries, and their relatives should be the first ones to conduct the ideological work on them.”
According to a believer from Fu’an, before Christmas, police officers threatened a local priest that they would dig up compromising information about his relatives, even those who had passed away, to harass them, if he refused to join the CPCA. “The government is looking for faults with the priest to pressure him,” said the believer.
Conscientious objectors’ situation from bad to worse
After the signing of the Vatican-China Deal of 2018, the situation of Catholic conscientious objectors who refuse to register with the state-run church continues to deteriorate across the country: clergy members and believers are frequently harassed and persecuted, churches closed down or demolished.
In late November, two priests from Mindong Diocese were summoned by the local National Security Brigade because they had travelled to Thailand to meet with Vatican representatives. Officials told them that their travel abroad without permission equates to breaking the law, and they could be sentenced to one to three years in prison for “foreign infiltration.” The two priests had their passports confiscated, and they were forced to sign statements consenting to “not entering churches,” “not going to other places during the pending trial period,” and “being accessible 24 hours a day on their cellphones.” They were also prohibited from “contacting foreign religious groups.”
According to a source familiar with the situation, bishop Guo Xijin was accused of “illicit relations with a foreign country” and was summoned by the authorities to explain how he had arranged the trip for the two priests, who are his assistants. The source believes that by controlling those who are close to the bishop, the government attempts to isolate him from all activities in the diocese completely.
Over a month ago, after the government has shut down Guo Xijin’s residence in the Luojiang sub-district of Fu’an, workers installed four high-definition surveillance cameras on the building. “The government keeps an eye on Bishop Guo to prevent foreign media from getting in touch with him. Perhaps they will soon put him under house arrest,” the source added.
A source in the Hebei provincial government revealed to Bitter Winter that it issued a document at the end of last year, which requires to crack down on the Catholic churches refusing to join the CPCA. The decree demands to prevent foreign religious groups from contacting domestic Catholic churches and strictly guard against any attempts to get involved in local religious affairs, such as the election of bishops. The document also requires to thoroughly investigate the clergy’s channels of communication with religious groups abroad to get hold of the information exchange in time to prepare for crackdowns.
“The government is trying to cut us off from the outside world,” a priest from the Diocese of Mindong commented. “The more the state persecutes religions, the more it will regress. The government does everything possible to control the hierarchy of the Catholic Church; it intervenes with the church’s work and wants to conduct and approve all its affairs, even though it should not have a say in it. This way, the church becomes the government’s puppet.”