Even state-approved Catholic clergy members are subjected to severe persecution when they start questioning the CCP’s oppressive religious policies.
by Tang Feng
Father Liu Jiangdong, ordained in 2005 and endorsed by the Communist government, served as a priest in the Catholic Church on Minggong Road, also known as the Church of the Sacred Heart, in the Erqi district of Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province. He was also the director of the Democratic Management Committee, a state-approved decision-making body in the church. In September 2018, Zhengzhou’s Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and Religious Affairs Bureau accused the thirty-year-old priest of “disorderly financial accounts” and “using public money for private purposes.” According to AsiaNews, the real reason for the persecution was his refusal to follow the government’s regulations. He was also “too active with the young” and “did too much” for his congregation. Fr. Liu was isolated for a week, his priesthood certificate suspended, and he was relieved of all his clerical duties.
Fr. Liu was arrested a month later, on October 10, and after some time, sentenced to detention for a year and two months.
A Catholic from the diocese told Bitter Winter that Fr. Liu explained to him that an accounting firm audited the church’s financial accounts annually, so they were in order. Regardless, the authorities threatened to punish him repeatedly because he did not follow their commands.
Another source in the diocese confirmed these statements. He added that a lawyer, who was hired by the priest’s family to defend him, revealed in private that Fr. Liu’s imprisonment had nothing to do with the church’s accounts: the government simply wanted to drive him out of the church and the province for not following its policies on religion. The source further said that Fr. Liu also resisted the removal of the cross from the church’s bell tower, insisted on establishing the Youth Fellowship of Holy Love, and allowed minors under 18 to come to the church, which is against the new Regulations on Religious Affairs.
The government has been using Fr. Liu’s case as an example to force other priests to follow the Party line. “Just look at Fr. Liu’s life: he lives in the detention house,” officials often tell the clergy members who either refuse to join the CPCA or don’t follow CCP’s orders, as Liu Jiangdong did. In the current climate of religious persecution, even the five officially-recognized religions in China are facing limitations and increasing harassment from the state.
After serving his time in the detention house, Fr. Liu was released on December 9, 2019. On January 1, 2020, he returned to his Zhengzhou church, where he had served for 13 years, but found that the lock to his residence had been changed. A local believer told Bitter Winter that when church workers let him in, Fr. Liu realized that his home had been searched, and many of his belongings missing.
On January 10, the priest was summoned by the local Religious Affairs Bureau and Security Bureau and ordered to leave the Zhengzhou Diocese the next day.
“They wanted to drive Fr. Liu out of the church and Henan Province,” a churchgoer told Bitter Winter. She added that since the day Fr. Liu was released from detention, authorities started surveilling him and monitor his phone calls. Members of his former congregation were threatened to be fined up to 200,000 RMB (about $ 29,000) if they sheltered him or invited him to hold Mass in their homes. “No one dares to take him in; he is now homeless and pushed to the corner,” the woman said.
After the signing of the Vatican-China Deal of 2018, the situation of Catholic conscientious objectors continues to deteriorate: they are frequently harassed and persecuted. Father Liu Quanfa, the Zhengzhou Diocese administrator and priest at the Church on Minggong Road, was ousted on March 4, 2019, because he did not acknowledge the leadership of the CCP-appointed diocesan administrator.
As per an AsiaNews report, five parishes in the Diocese of Mindong in Fujian Province were closed down last month, after their water and power supply had been cut off for failing “fire safety standards.” The priests refusing to join the CPCA were driven out, and Msgr. Guo Xijin, the diocese’s auxiliary bishop, was expelled from the residence and left homeless.