Forty-five priests from the Diocese of Zhangjiakou were forced to undergo “ideological conversion classes” to make them join the Patriotic Church.
On May 21, the Zhangjiakou city government in the northern province of Hebei summoned 45 Catholic priests for an indoctrination meeting, organized to force them to join the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA).
According to a priest who requested anonymity, they were gathered in a hotel, government- assigned personnel kept guard outside it, and no one was allowed to enter or leave at will. Large numbers of staff were present to conduct group indoctrination activities and one-on-one talks with each priest.
Following the Vatican-China Deal of 2018, the Holy See and the CCP de facto recognized each other’s authority, the former taking for granted the emergence of a “new” church that is loyal both to the Pope and the government, while the latter interpreting the deal to the effect that all should join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church. To ensure this, the authorities continue to harass the clergy that refuse to do so.
“They used the Vatican-China agreement to pressure us, implying that even the Pope has agreed that the official and underground churches should be unified. They told us that if we don’t join the CPCA, then we’re disobeying the Pope. That isn’t the case at all!” the priest told Bitter Winter. “The reason why the Pope called for the two churches to be unified was for better evangelization, but the government is using the agreement as an excuse to make these non-Patriotic bishops and priests to swear allegiance to the leadership of the Communist Party and adhere to the principle of an independent, self-governed, and self-administered church. This is absolutely unacceptable to bishops and priests with a conscience.”
As reported by UCANews, in a recent Vatican document sent to the Diocese of Fuzhou, negotiations are still ongoing on whether all priests should be compelled to join the CPCA. The Holy See opposes the idea of local government officials pressuring churches and parishes under their jurisdictions to join the government-controlled organization. Such moves could derail the ongoing negotiations, the Vatican reportedly warned.
“The government also demanded that we raise the national flag, sing the national anthem and patriotic songs in the church. This will be implemented in churches nationwide,” the priest added helplessly. He also mentioned that some priests who refused to compromise with the government have been forced to return home and do other jobs, while the authorities continue to harass them, demanding they write a “statement of guarantee” stating that they are not priests.
“Actually, this is how the government is pressuring us into betraying God,” continued the priest. “On October 13, Father Su Guipeng from the Shadifang parish was placed under house arrest for refusing to join the CPCA and was kept there for over two months. Afterward, he was driven out and forced to return home. This time, the government also summoned him to the indoctrination class.”
Even when priests agree to join the CPCA after continuous pressure, government officials still make them attend indoctrination meetings, coming up with a variety of reasons, such as not sufficient clerical training.
“The CCP is carrying out deep-level indoctrination on these priests to make them completely ‘party-fied,’” said the priest. He added that the ideological transformation events are organized on all levels of governance, to make sure that all priests have been thoroughly transformed.
Despite the heavy-handed pressure, priests in China continue to resist, and the authorities to punish them. Bitter Winter talked to a priest from the Diocese of Yantai in the eastern province of Shandong who was demanded to join the CPCA at the end of April. He was required to sign a statement of commitment, according to which he was to make sure that the number of believers in his congregation does not increase, he does not hold large-scale religious activities or religious training classes; he would collect believers’ ID information and send it to the Religious Affairs Bureau every six months, along with other details on religious activities.
The priest refused to join the CPCA. As a result, some of the meeting venues for which he was responsible have been taken over by the CPCA and others have been forced to close.
While the Vatican authorities and media have recently denied that an Underground Church separated from the Patriotic Church still exists in China, some dissenting voices think otherwise.
“The persecution of underground Catholicism in China will continue to intensify. Bearing witness to God, this persecution will not stop until it reaches the point of bloodshed,” said a Catholic from the Diocese of Yantai.