PERSECUTION OF CATHOLICS IN CHINA
Chinese Catholics have been arrested for refusing to break with the Vatican and recognize the authorized Catholic Church of China; priests have been sentenced to hard labor for giving communion; bishops have been prohibited from saying Mass in homes; nuns have been forced to recant their vows; and teachers and students have been pressured into denouncing their faith.
Homes where masses have been held have been surrounded by police. To disrupt a large outdoor Mass in Donghu, the Communist party sent 500 party members to block roads, turn people back at the train station and close meeting places. One party official reportedly mocked the Catholics by donning priest robes and making faces.
In the months preceded the Beijing Olympics in 2008 leaders of underground churches were arrested, congregations were harassed, visas were denied foreign missionaries and places of worship were shut down. During his Christmas address in December 2010 Pope Benedict XVI prayed for religious freedom in China. "May the birth of the savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his church, may keep alive the flame of hope," Benedict prayed aloud.
Good Websites and Sources on Religion in China: Chinese Government White Paper on Religion china-embassy.org ; United States Commission on International Religious Freedom uscirf.gov/countries/china; Articles on Religion in China forum18.org ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Council of Foreign Relations cfr.org ; Brooklyn College brooklyn.cuny.edu ; Religion Facts religionfacts.com; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org ; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy stanford.edu ; Academic Info academicinfo.net ; Internet Guide to Chinese Studies sino.uni-heidelberg.de Christianity in China Christianity in China Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; History of Christianity in China Ricci Roundtable
Persecution of Catholic Priests in China
Priests have suffered for some time under the Communists. Archbishop Dominic Tang Yiming was jailed without trial in 1957 for heading a religious group that refused to break with the Vatican. Tang was released from prison in 1980 after being diagnosed with cancer and was permanently exiled in 1981. The Bishop of Shanghai, Ignatius Gong Pinmei, was sentenced to life in prison in 1960 for his pro-democracy efforts. He has spent over 30 years in prison. Father Francis Xavier Zhu Shude was first sent a labor camp in 1953 and finally died at the age of 70 after being imprisoned for more than 30 years.
Bishop Xie Shiguang of Mingdong was arrested in 1955 and released a year later and arrested again in 1958 and jailed until 1980 and was jailed again in 1984 and 1990 for his beliefs, serving a total of 28 years in prison. In 1983, Catholic priests who had already spent many years in prison were again given long sentences on charges of teaching religion in prison and treason. As of 1997, 29 Catholic leaders and dozens of Protestants were still imprisoned.
The persecution of priests continues. In March 2005, two elder Catholic priests were arrested. One of them had refused o break his ties with the Vatican. Another priest was fined, threatened, tortured and forced to join a Communist study group and report to the police eight times a day. There have been reports of bishops in the underground church disappearing. Others are under house arrest.
Ignoring that, Pope Benedict XVI invited four Chinese bishops to attend the Synod of Bishops in 2005. The government refused to give the bishops permission to attend. In August 2007, Bishop Jia Zhigao of the underground Catholic diocese of Zheng Ding in Hebei Province was arrested. It was the 11th time he had been arrested since 2004. He had previously served 20 years in prison.
According to the U.S. State Department: “Some unregistered Catholic clergy remained in detention, in particular in Hebei Province. Harassment of unregistered bishops and priests continued, including government surveillance and repeated detentions. In August 2012, media reported public security officers from Qiadong District, Hebei Province, detained and took to an unknown location Song Wanjun, an underground priest of Hebei’s Xiwanzi diocese. At year’s end his whereabouts remained unknown. There was no new information on Su Zhimin, an unregistered Catholic bishop who disappeared after being taken into police custody in 1996. [Source: “International Religious Freedom Report for 2013 China”, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, state.gov/|\]
Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who is recognized by the Vatican as the successor to Aloysius Jin Luxian as Bishop of Shanghai, was rarely been seen in public since Ma announced his resignation from the CPA during his July 2012 Vatican-sanctioned consecration ceremony. According to the Shanghai Religious Affairs Bureau, the Chinese Catholic Church suspended Ma’s right to conduct religious services for two years due to “improper consecration.” He reportedly spent most of his time in seclusion at the Sheshan Catholic Seminary outside Shanghai, although he occasionally posted on social media and his blog. The Shanghai diocese did not have a leader after Jin Luxian’s death in April and was being managed by a five-priest caretaker council. /|\
Choosing Bishops in China
The Vatican has said it wants control over the section of bishops although it willing to consider candidates suggested by the government and local diocese. Under an informal system, the Chinese government sometimes names clerics it knows have already been approved by the Vatican. When it unilaterally chooses its own bishops the Vatican gets upset.
The right to appoint bishops has been a key to the Vatican to ensure control and orthodoxy over far-flung communities of believers for centuries. In the same vein, China's communist government wants to make sure Catholics remain loyal to Beijing, not a foreign power. Bishops appointe dby Beijing are forbidden according to the Vatican from “carrying out any ministry or office.” It would be especially scandalous if such a bishop joined as a co-consecrating bishop or a principal consecrator of another bishop. [Source: AP, November 29, 2011]
Over the last decade, Beijing and the Vatican have attempted quietly in fits and starts to work out an agreement on clerical appointments. China is sincere about improving relations with the Vatican and recent ordinations of bishops in China "promotes the healthy development of Chinese Catholicism," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in November 2011.
In June 2005, Shanghai consecrated a new bishop, Joseph Xing Wenzhi. Both Rome and Beijing tacitly approved the choice. Xing was officially appointed auxiliary bishop but he is the successor to Shanghai Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian, who was 89 in 2005 and giving up many of his duties. In his vows Xing promised to “loyally serve” the pope but also vowed to work for “social stability” and a “well-off society” in accordance with the official Communist Party line. In September 2005, Beijing rejected an invitation from the Vatican for four Chinese bishops to visit Rome.
In 2006, China appointed three bishops without Vatican approval: Ma Yinglin in Kunming, Liu Xinhong in Wuhu in Anhui and Wang Renlei in Jiangsu Province. These moves were seen as set back to warming relations between China and the Vatican. In recent years most new bishops had received Vatican approval. In 2007, China appointed three bishops with Vatican approval; Joseph Li Shah to the important 400-year-old cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing and two ther bishops in Guangzhou and Hebei Province. The move helped to ease tensions between Beijing and the Vatican.
Joseph Zen Zekiun, the bishop of Hong Kong, is an outspoken critic of the lack of religious freedom in China. He was appointed to cardinal by the Vatican in 2006.
Conflicts Between China and the Vatican Over the Ordination of Bishops in 2010
A Chinese official said more than a dozen bishops were ordained in 2010 after an apparent agreement between Beijing and the Vatican. But the BBC reported in November 2010, “China's state-backed Catholic church has challenged the Vatican by ordaining a bishop without papal approval - the first such ceremony since 2006. Guo Jincao's ordination was carried out in the north-eastern city of Chengde amid a strong security presence. Eight Vatican-approved bishops are believed to have been forced to attend the ceremony.
Hundreds of people - including government officials - attended the ceremony, according to AsiaNews, a Vatican-affiliated missionary news agency that closely follows religious affairs in China.The agency said that eight bishops, who were in communion with the Vatican, were also present. The Vatican warned earlier this week that it would regard any attempt by Beijing to force Chinese Catholic bishops, who were in communion with Rome, to attend the ceremony in Chengde as a grave violation of freedom of religion and of conscience. Hong Kong's Cardinal Joseph Zen had called the Chinese decision a "shameful" and "illegal" act.
Guo Jincai is the deputy head of Patriotic Chinese Church so his consecration is viewed as a clear slap in the face for Rome. The reason why the appointment of new Chinese bishops has become such a contentious issue is that more than 40 Catholic dioceses in China are without a bishop after the death of the incumbent.For the Chinese the appointment of a new bishop is a political act which cannot be delegated to a foreigner in Rome. But as far as the Vatican is concerned, the Chinese church is guilty of a serious breach of ecclesiastical discipline.
Conflicts Between China and the Vatican Over the Ordination of Bishops in 2011
In June 2011, AFP reported, Chinese police detained a Vatican-backed Catholic priest and blocked his ordination as a bishop, a parishioner said, in a move likely to raise tensions with the Holy See. The detention of Joseph Lei Shiyin came as China's state-run Catholic Church reportedly ordained another bishop without the consent of the Vatican, which stipulates ordinations can only go ahead with the Holy See's blessing.
"Joseph Sun Jigeng was taken away by police on June 26 and he has not been released," a member of the Handan Catholic church in northern China's Hebei province told AFP. "On June 29, we had planned to have the ordination ceremony but the police have blocked the road and no ceremony can be held. Police said it was an 'illegal activity'," said the church member, who refused to be named. The Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) denied Sun, 43, had been detained.
In June 2011, the Beijing-backed church said it wanted to ordain at least 40 bishops "without delay". Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained without Vatican approval as the bishop of Leshan in a ceremony held in southwest China's Sichuan province, the Vatican-linked AsiaNews website reported.
In July 2011, AP reported, a Chinese bishop ordained without papal approval has been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, the Vatican said, bringing relations between the Vatican and Beijing to a new low. In a statement branding ordination illegitimate, the Vatican said Pope Benedict "deplores" the way communist authorities are treating Chinese Catholics who want to remain faithful to Rome instead of to the state-backed Church. [Source: AP, July 16, 2011]
China's state-sanctioned Catholic Church ordained Joseph Huang Bingzhang as bishop in Shantou city in southern Guangdong province despite warnings he would not be recognised because the city has a Vatican-approved bishop. "Consequently, the Holy See does not recognise him ... and he lacks authority to govern the Catholic community of diocese," the Vatican said.
In its statement, the Vatican said Beijing authorities had coerced some bishops loyal to the Holy See to attend the ordination service against their will and praised them for trying to resist. A source in China said last week the bishops were accompanied to the event by police. "The Holy Father, having learned of these events, once again deplores the manner in which the Church in China is being treated and hopes that the present difficulties can be overcome as soon as possible," The Vatican said. Beijing responsed by saying would ordain more bishops with Vatican approval.
China Ordains Vatican-Approved Bishop
In November 2011, AP reported China ordained a pope-approved bishop but the Vatican and the Chinese government-controlled Catholic church fought over the guest list. The ordination of Peter Luo Xuegang as coadjutor bishop of Yibin diocese has the blessing of the Vatican, a recent point of agreement in its decades-long rift with the state-backed church. The source of friction this time is the possible presence of an excommunicated bishop at the ceremony. [Source: AP, November 29, 2011]
AsiaNews, the Vatican-affiliated news agency which closely covers the church in China, reported that Paul Lei Shiyin was almost certain to take part because the government "will want to impress a 'patriotic' and 'independent' character on the ceremony."Church officials from the Yibin diocese and Sichuan province, where Yibin is located, on Tuesday declined to confirm whether Lei was invited. Lei is the president of the Catholic Patriotic Association, and a diocese official said unspecified members of the association would attend the ceremony."There were oral decisions made, but I'm not sure whether Father Lei Shiyin will attend," said the Yibin official, who only gave his surname, Yang. He said: "The Vatican has not talked to our diocese about the specifics."
The affair strikes at the heart of the dispute between the Vatican and the state-backed church since their split a half-century ago:the right to appoint bishops. AsiaNews reported that with the threat of Lei's attendance, several bishops in neighboring dioceses were now afraid to participate in the ordination.
At issue is not necessarily whether Lei will attend but the level of his participation, said Anthony Lam, a researcher at the Roman Catholic church-affiliated Holy Spirit Study Center in Hong Kong. If Lei sits in the audience that would be fine, but if he actively takes part in the consecration "that would be a scandal," said Lam. It might, he said, render the ordination illegitimate.
Bishop Who Stood up to China
Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “It was shaping as a win in the Communist Party's quest to contain a longtime nemesis, the Roman Catholic Church. In July 2012, a priest named Thaddeus Ma Daqin was to be ordained auxiliary bishop of Shanghai. The Communist body that has governed the church for six decades had angered the Holy See by appointing bishops without Vatican approval. Known as the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, it was now about to install Ma, one of its own officials, as deputy in China's largest Catholic diocese. "The anticipation was he would be a yes man," says Jim Mulroney, a priest and editor of the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner, a Catholic newspaper. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, March 31, 2014 /+/]
“Instead, standing before a thousand Catholics and government officials at Saint Ignatius Cathedral, Ma spurned the party: It wouldn't be "convenient" for him to remain in the Patriotic Association, he said. Many in the crowd erupted into thunderous applause. People wept. Ma had switched sides - and a crisis was under way. The priest soon disappeared from public view, instructed by the late bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian to move to a mountainside seminary outside Shanghai, where he has been confined for 20 months. He was stripped of his new title, questioned by officials for weeks and required to attend communist indoctrination classes. /+/
Ma's renunciation of the association forced into the open a struggle that had been playing out for years:” the battle between the "official" church answerable to the Party, and an "underground" loyal to the Pope. “There are tentative signs a thaw may be possible. New leaders have been appointed in both the Vatican and China since Ma defied the Patriotic Association. Any change in Ma's status is likely to be gradual, the Vatican source said, given opposition from the Shanghai government, still furious over Ma's repudiation of the official church.
Bishop Ma Daqin
Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “Ma was born in 1966 to a staunch Catholic family in Shanghai. His grandfather and father both yearned to be priests but were frustrated by the Communist takeover and later the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Ma's family lived directly opposite St. Ignatius Cathedral, a gothic building built by French Jesuits between 1905 and 1910. Ma began attending Mass daily with his parents at St. Ignatius after China eased government controls on religion in the late 1970s. He studied at the Sheshan Seminary and became a priest in 1994, going on to serve in each of Shanghai's Catholic churches. Ma always worked with the official church. He had risen to become the vice-chairman of Shanghai's Patriotic Association.[Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, March 31, 2014 /+/]
Ma had been close to Shanghai's official Bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian, who died on April 27, 2013 at the age of 96. Jin himself had walked a fine line between Beijing and Rome, spending nearly three decades under house arrest, in reeducation camps and in prison before joining the official church.
After the ordination fiasco Ma was sent to Sheshan Seminary. As of March 2014, Sui-Lee wrote: “He regularly posts blog items for the faithful, mostly excerpts from scripture and greetings to his flock. In a December 6 post, shortly after the death of Nelson Mandela, the priest cited one of the South African liberation leader's most famous quotations: "Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me." His quarters, which he shares with a half-dozen priests, overlook a lush bamboo forest. In one room, a photo of the retired Pope Benedict hangs on a wall and a small Chinese flag sits on a desk. Reuters went to Sheshan Seminary and met with Ma, who said that while he is allowed to chat with visitors as part of his pastoral duties, he cannot accept media interviews.” /+/
Extraordinary Scene at Bishop Ma’s Ordination
Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “On July 4, 2012, three days before Ma's ordination, a spokesman for the government's Religious Affairs Bureau said China was "willing to enter into consultations with the Vatican on issues including the ordination of bishops." Then, on July 7, 2012, came Ma's ordination. By all accounts, it was an extraordinary scene at Saint Ignatius Cathedral that day. Scores of priests and nuns had gathered outside the cathedral to protest against the participation in the ceremony of Vincent Zhan Silu, a bishop loyal to the Patriotic Association who had been ordained without approval by the Vatican.[Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, March 31, 2014 /+/]
“Jin was criticized at times for being too close to the government after his release from prison. But his accommodation with the government seemed to have soured when Zhan was one of those named to help officiate at the ceremony. Jin convened a meeting of Shanghai's priests and nuns and told them to "act according to your conscience" when it came to attending the ordination. "Bishop Jin was so furious," said Cardinal Joseph Zen, a Shanghai-born former bishop of Hong Kong. "He called all the priests and said: 'I did all I could but they are still trying to impose this illegitimate bishop (Zhan), so I will do all my best to humiliate this fellow.'" /+/
“And, from the view of the official church, that is what transpired. Shanghai Bishop Jin and two other bishops performed the "laying on of hands" ritual that is meant to invoke the Holy Spirit during an ordination. Zhan and two other bishops were also supposed to perform the ritual. But Ma prevented them from putting their hands on his head by rising from his knees and hugging the three bishops instead. Zhan did not respond to requests for comment. Ma then strode to the pulpit, and referring to the crowd of priests and nuns outside, said: "Today, from our diocese, there are several brothers, sisters, priests and nuns who were not able to attend due to various reasons. I would like to say, I love them." He spoke about the need to focus on pastoral duties - working with parishioners - in his new role as bishop, as opposed to the bureaucratic duties that come with the job as a Patriotic Association bishop. "Therefore, starting from this day of consecration, I will no longer find it convenient to be a member of the Patriotic Association," he said. /+/
Response to Bishop Ma’s Insubordination
Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “It isn't clear what led Ma to turn against the Patriotic Association that day. Priests who knew Ma said that while he was close to Jin the official bishop, he also admired the Shanghai underground bishop, Joseph Fan Zhongliang, who died on March 16. And both of those bishops objected to Zhan's participation in the ceremony. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, March 31, 2014 /+/]
“The Patriotic Association's honorary chairman Liu, who wasn't in attendance that day, was furious. "When they told me about this matter, I said: 'It's finished, it's finished," he said in the interview. Ma's actions "violated church regulations."Asked whether Ma could eventually be a full bishop, as the Vatican source has suggested, Liu said that Ma was "a talented person" but has to "truly repent. He first has to understand and recognize his mistake." /+/
The Vatican tried to look for a diplomatic solution after Ma's act of defiance. In October 2012, three months after the St. Ignatius ceremony, Rome proposed "a new way for dialogue", calling for a "bilateral commission for relations", similar to ones between China and Taiwan and between the Vatican and communist Vietnam. The author of the proposal, Cardinal Fernando Filoni, is a China expert who heads the Vatican department that deals with missions. In a letter to Beijing outlining his proposal, Cardinal Filoni listed the stumbling blocks to better ties: the "sharpened control of the state over the Church" since 2010 and the "heavy interference of the civil authorities over the appointment of bishops." Bishop Ma's detention was "the latest worrying sign," he wrote. /+/
“The enduring rupture, however, suggests any end to the standoff over bishop appointments may be a long way off. Ma's rebuff still stings, says Anthony Liu Bainian, the layman who is the honorary chairman of the Patriotic Association. "He deceived the bishops and cheated the government as well as the public," Liu said. "How can you then take on the responsibility for such a large diocese as Shanghai? This clearly shows that (Ma) was under the influence of foreigners." /+/
Shanghai's Church in Disarray After the Ma Ordination Incident
After Ma Daqin used his ordination to renounce the Patriotic Association, a Beijing-controlled organ that controls the Chinese Church, Tom Phillips wrote in The Telegraph, “Worshippers had been left "shocked, grief-stricken and anxious overcome with grief and dismay", said Father Michael Kelly, the head of UCA News, a news agency that covers Catholic issues in Asia. "It is the worst of times." Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, a Belgian priest who heads the Catholic University of Leuven's Verbiest Institute and has a long-standing relationship with China's Catholic Church said: "The confrontation may be more sharp than [at any time] in the last 30 years. "[Shanghai's church] has no shepherd leading the flock." [Source: Tom Phillips, The Telegraph, July 12, 2013 *|*]
“Fearful of government retributions, those who work and worship within Shanghai's Catholic Church are reluctant to openly discuss the crisis enveloping their community. But one source in the city's Catholic community said the diocese was facing a "defining moment". "We don't know what the government's next step will be. We don't know what the church's next step will be," said the source. "Only God knows [what will happen]." The turmoil has revived memories of the night of September 8, 1955, when Communist officials rounded up and jailed Shanghai's Catholic leaders, including Bishop Jin who would spend 18 years behind bars and toiling at reform camps. *|*
“After leaders were released from prison in the 1980s, the diocese went from strength to strength, observers and church members say. Bishop Jin took over as bishop in 1989 and is widely remembered as a pragmatist who managed to advance the Church's interests in China while simultaneously keeping the Communist Party happy. Under his leadership, a research centre and a shelter for the poor were opened and the number of functioning churches rocketed from just a handful to more than 140. Government figures place Shanghai's Catholic community at around 150,000 people but clergy believe the true figure could be twice that. *|*
“Clergy seen as having close links to Bishop Ma have been thrown under a shadow of suspicion and the ordination of priests has ground to a halt. Two sources confirmed that the diocese's German printing presses, imported by Bishop Jin, had stopped functioning because the Patriotic Association was refusing to approve new publications as a form of "punishment". "[Shanghai's Catholics] pray everyday for Bishop Ma's release. They support him and want him to come back. He is our shepherd and he has no freedom," said one church member. "But what can ordinary people do in this country? The government is very strong. The people cannot protest. They cannot shout." Bishop Ma's decision to speak out enraged Communist Party officials and even within the church it has provoked controversy. *|*
“Some believe that his move, while noble, has badly damaged the Catholic community and several people who knew Bishop Jin said he had been left "heartbroken" by the events of July 2012. "Did Bishop Jin like that? I most certainly know that he didn't," said Father Heyndrickx. "I spoke to him and he made it very clear that he was very sad with what happened last July and the way it happened. The damage is enormous and could it have been avoided? I think so and he thought so. He said very clearly he had told Ma: 'Don't speak about the Patriotic Association. Don't mention [it].' To do that in such an open way was totally unacceptable to the government." *|*
“"There is no quick solution to the present confusion," said Father Heyndrickx. "Before you can come to the type of dialogue that was going on in 2008, 2009, 2010 you have to rebuilt trust on both sides and there is no trust at the moment." Clergy say they are unsure whether Bishop Ma will eventually be rehabilitated or forced to spend the rest of his life in isolation. The Church source said priests and worshippers were now clinging to their faith and hoping the crisis would trigger a "renewal.""We have to cherish hardship. We know that hardship and persecution give us hope," they said. "If the Church had no challenges, it would be no Church at all. We are Christians. We have faith. We can wait."” *|*
Thaw Between the Vatican and Beijing on the Bishop Ma Issue?
Sui-Lee Wee of Reuters wrote: “Ma's "patriotic education" classes ended” in August 2013, “according to the source close to the Vatican... The Patriotic Association, meanwhile, has not ordained any bishops for over a year, a development the source called "a good signal". The Chinese government has privately signaled it could appoint Ma as the next full bishop of Shanghai, a position now vacant, and release two long-jailed bishops loyal to the Vatican, according to a source close to the Holy See. This person said several people had conveyed that message to a Vatican official in private meetings. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, Reuters, March 31, 2014 /+/]
“China has yet to send any public signal that it is willing to resume a dialogue with the Vatican, and some hardliners in the Catholic Church oppose any accommodation with China. Beijing's impasse with the Catholic Church also coincides with a broader crackdown against dissident groups - including Christians who go to "house churches", rights lawyers, academics and activists - that have resulted in a spate of trials and detentions. /+/
“Pope Francis has been silent on the standoff, but he told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera this month he has exchanged letters with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the first acknowledgment of communication since both men took office in late 2012. "There are relations," Francis said, without elaborating on the exchange. The Vatican's new Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, has also sounded an optimistic note. In February, he told Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops' Conference, that he is hopeful "trust and understanding among the parties might increase." He added: "This might be concretely realized in the resumption of a constructive dialogue with political authorities" in China.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated June 2015