The CCP is pressuring Catholic conscientious objectors to join the Patriotic Church by using the Vatican’s pastoral guidelines as an excuse.
by Ye Ling
Even though the Vatican’s pastoral guidelines of June 28 call on the Chinese authorities to respect those who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), the CCP continues to wrongfully claim that the Holy See has asked all priests and bishops to join the Patriotic Church.
The Diocese of Mindong in the southeastern province of Fujian has been in the eye of the storm ever since its auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Guo Xijin, signed an application to join the CPCA after the authorities had agreed to modify its text, but he retracted his signature on May 24. Bishop Guo affirmed his willingness to unite with other conscientious objectors in opposing the government. The CCP interpreted his move as sabotaging its plan for “unity and harmony.”
Retributions against Bishop Guo
According to a priest in the diocese who wished to remain anonymous, after he retracted his signature from the CPCA application, Bishop Guo’s religious activities were restricted, and he was not allowed to exercise his episcopal authority. On June 29, the government assigned personnel to conduct surveillance on Bishop Guo and all the priests who hadn’t signed the application and prohibited them from participating in the opening ceremony for the new cathedral. The priest explained that this move was aimed at preventing Catholic conscientious objectors from making comments unfavorable to the government that could be exposed by the international media.
The local government summoned bishop Guo in mid-August, the priest said. Officials emphasized that the Vatican’s pastoral guidelines allow Catholics to join the CPCA and tried forcing him to sign the application to join the CPCA again, but he refused.
Bishop Guo’s refusal infuriated the officials, and they threatened to brand him an “illegal bishop,” meaning that the government could punish him at any time.
“It’s not an easy decision to sign or not the application,” the priest explained. “Even if he signed it, the government wouldn’t trust him and would simply take advantage of him to force other priests to sign their names under the banner of ‘unity and harmony.’ If he didn’t sign it, the government would brutally suppress and punish him. Many underground priests have quietly disappeared and gone missing.”
The priest added worriedly that Bishop Guo’s continued refusal to join the CPCA has offended the CCP’s authority and interests. As a result, the CCP regards him as a “thorn in its side” that must be removed. The CCP will definitely suppress and retaliate against him, and “might even make him disappear.”
Even ill and elderly priests are not spared
According to a churchgoer from the diocese, authorities have been using the pastoral guidelines to force Mindong priests into joining the CPCA ever since they had been issued; fewer than 20 priests out of 57 continue to resist.
In mid-August, local officials ordered one of the priests to sign an application, stating that forcing Catholics to join the CPCA was a national policy. They told him that if he refused, his license would be revoked, which would make him an “illegal priest,” and if he held Mass, he would be detained.
The priest told the officials that he had been diagnosed with cancer, showing his medical records as proof. “I’m a dying man. All I want is peace of mind. Don’t force me to sign, let me pass away peacefully,” the priest pleaded with the officials, but the officials continued to intimidate him into signing the application. The priest refused.
Around the same time, nine priests in the diocese who refused to join the CPCA submitted letters of resignation to Vincent Zhan Silu, the Bishop of the Diocese of Mindong who took over from Msgr. Guo Xijin after the Vatican-China Deal of 2018 was signed; he is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), as well as vice-chairman of the CPCA. None of their resignations were approved.
According to one of the priests, the main reason behind the government’s refusal to accept their resignations is that it worries they will incite believers to conduct underground religious activities.
“The government even forced some elderly retired priests to sign,” the priest said. “The CCP aims to make all underground clergy accept the Party’s leadership and control.”
Conscientious objectors in dire straits
The pastoral guidelines state that the Holy See will continue negotiating with the CCP regarding the civil registration of bishops and priests. Bishop Guo Xijin commented that some Vatican officers are very vocal about encouraging Chinese priests to unite with the CPCA, but they have been very reserved, and even vague, about supporting underground priests to maintain their faith and principles; to the extent that churchgoers are unable to decipher their words. This has allowed the CCP to boldly use the Vatican-China Deal and the pastoral guidelines to pressure priests into joining the CPCA, putting Catholic conscientious objectors in a challenging position.
“If before signing the agreement we remained fearless and maintained our faith no matter how much we were coerced, the Holy See would have supported us, too,” the bishop said. “But now, we’re really helpless. To be frank, whoever persists will suffer greater suppression and persecution from the CCP.” He added that the road of persecution is still very long, and Catholics must use it to strengthen their faith.