The Chinese government further uses the tentative agreement with the Vatican to force all underground churches to join state-approved ones.
Never mind a nearly four-month-old provisional agreement with the Vatican – one that was supposed to ease decades-long tensions regarding the appointing of bishops – the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP, is upping its suppression and persecution of underground Catholic churches and believers.
Under the Vatican-China deal of 2018, Pope Francis recognized the legitimacy of seven Chinese-government-appointed bishops, who, not having been selected by the Vatican, had been excommunicated. In turn, Beijing finally, and formally, recognized the pope’s authority.
“China and the Vatican will continue to maintain communications and push forward the process of improving relations between the two sides,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement at the time.
And yet, the CCP is doing the opposite of improving relations with churches on the home front.
In early December, officers from a police station in Taining county of the prefecture-level city of Sanming in China’s southeastern Fujian Province stormed into a local underground Catholic church meeting place in order to arrest the church’s priest and nuns. When the mission failed, the officers threatened an elderly believer, saying: “If we can’t find the priest, then we will take all of you away.”
The following day, the police once again descended on the meeting venue, conducting illegal searches of the dormitory and harassing the believers there.
In October, an underground Catholic church in Gucheng county of the prefecture-level city of Hengshui in northeast Hebei Province was sealed off by the local government on the grounds that “the gathering venue was unlicensed and thus illegal.”
According to one believer, seals were placed over the door of every room inside the church. The statue of the Holy Virgin in the center of the courtyard was removed and the church’s cross dismantled.
“The government says that we were holding illegal gatherings. They told us to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and that we have to raise the national flag and sing the national anthem in the future,” one believer said. “They are making us leave God and believe in them [the government].”
And another underground Catholic church, this time in northwestern Shaanxi Province’s Weinan prefecture-level city, was repeatedly pressured by the local government to join the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, or CPCA.
The believers, there, too, were threatened by officials.
“If you want to read scripture, you must go to CPCA churches. Otherwise, you will be fined 20,000 RMB [almost ,000]. If you don’t have money, you will be arrested,” they said.
The person in charge of the church, going by the name Guo, said he wouldn’t join any state-controlled church. The church members echoed that sentiment. And so, government officials detained the 75-year-old Guo and took him to the police station to be interrogated.
Some in China believe that the tentative deal between the Vatican and Beijing has given the CCP more license to go after the underground Catholic churches and force them to join the state-sanctioned ones, and thus, give credibility to the state churches.
“The CCP now requires all underground Catholic priests to comply with its policies. If the priest doesn’t obey, they will not recognize him and will expel him from the church on the grounds of not being a legal priest,” one underground priest in the Archdiocese of Fuzhou, who wished to remain anonymous, said. “The CCP has already started to use methods of intense indoctrination to transform and control priests. Priests who are strong-willed and disobey will continue to be locked up.”
As Bitter Winter reported earlier, after the deal with the Vatican was signed, numerous underground Catholic churches have been closed down, were harassed, or had religious symbols removed from their premises across China; some Catholic priests have been arrested as well.
Reported by Lin Yijiang