As the Vatican-China Deal of 2018 expires this month, priests refusing to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association are threatened with more restrictions.
by Wang Yong
As the date for the renewal of the provisional Vatican-China Deal of 2018 drew closer, unregistered priests in the Catholic Diocese of Yujiang in the southeastern province of Jiangxi suffered increased persecution. Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, Vatican’s key negotiator, believes that the agreement should be renewed for one or two years, while Catholic conscientious objectors in Yujiang and other unregistered dioceses are dreading the new agreement. They fear that demands to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), which the CCP enforces ignoring Vatican Guidelines of 2019 that ask to respect those who refuse for reasons of conscience, will be accompanied by even more severe repressions.
A priest from the Yujiang dioceses told Bitter Winter that he was summoned three times in just two weeks by local officials, who informed him that the new agreement with the Vatican would no longer be provisional. “They told me that I would be prohibited from celebrating Mass if I refuse to join,” the priest said. “They even threatened to punish me according to the National Security Law if I do.”
The officials also stressed that unregistered churches in China are illegal, and all religious venues should obey the Communist Party and operate according to its rules; those who don’t will be regarded as xie jiao. According to them, freedom of religion can only be enjoyed under the Communist Party’s leadership, and all Catholic churches in China must be “sinicized.”
“The renewal of the Vatican-China deal will threaten both the development of the Church and priests’ future,” the priest added. “The CCP aims to eliminate unregistered churches. Priests who refuse to join the CPCA have no alternative but to go back home and live in seclusion, unable to perform their pastoral duties.”
Congregation members are worried about the priest’s future. “If he resists the government and refuse to join [the CPCA], he will be arrested for sure,” a local Catholic told Bitter Winter.
A church member added that local authorities had planned to arrest eight priests in the diocese who refuse to join the CPCA, threatening to detain congregation members who don’t disclose their whereabouts.
One of the priests fled home in July to evade persecution. Because of the surveillance equipment installed in his residence, seven local officials came to look for him half an hour after he had left. Specially assigned personnel now patrol the residence, showing the priest’s photographs to residents, hoping to capture him.
The priest told Bitter Winter that he was ready to either spend the rest of his life in prison or go home to farm. “I can’t worship the Communist Party,” he said.
“After the Vatican-China Deal is renewed, the CCP will be more ruthless with rebellious priests,” another priest in the diocese believes.
A priest from Cangzhou city in the northern province of Hebei agrees. “The new deal will not protect Chinese Catholics’ interests and will make the persecutions worse,” he said. “All changes brought about after the Vatican-China deal have disappointed Chinese Catholics. The CCP is ‘sinicizing’ all religions, forcing them to obey its rule and become the government’s puppets.”
Entire “disobedient” congregations continue to be persecuted and punished across China, and their venues are closed down. On August 2, Chongren county officials in Jiangxi’s Fuzhou city raided the Xiaonanmen Chapel (“小南門”經堂), a Catholic venue established over 30 years ago, demanding the congregation to tear down all religious symbols. Afterward, they ordered the property owner to shut down the venue.
“They threatened to bring down the house if people continued to sing hymns here,” a church member remembered. The believer added that after the Vatican-China Deal was signed in 2018, officials paid frequent visits to the venue, threatening to revoke disabilities allowances from the property owner’s two children if priests are found celebrating Mass in the venue.
On July 21, the CCP Committee Secretary of Hangbu, a town administered by Fuzhou’s Chongren county, accompanied by the head of a local police station, came to a Catholic venue inside the residence of Bishop Thomas Zeng Jingmu and dispersed the congregation in the name of “epidemic prevention.”
“The government assigned personnel to keep the Bishop Zeng’s residence under constant surveillance,” a local Catholic said. “We cannot sing hymns or celebrate Mass because a surveillance camera has been installed at the entrance.”
The same month, officials demanded the landlord of a Catholic venue in Chongren-administered Ma’an town to provide the list of congregation members, warning that the church was illegal because it refuses to join the CPCA.