By Ray Duffy
Despite a 2018 diplomatic agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, persecution of the Catholic Church in China is continuing to grow in intensity.
When the Communist People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, existing religions within China were permitted to continue practicing, so long as they consented to being supervised by the government and to swear allegiance to it above all else. For Catholics, this state-supervised body took the form of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which denies the leadership of the Pope.
In a letter to the Chinese bishops, now-Pope Emeritus Benedict stated “you, my Brother Bishops, have encountered difficulties, since persons who are not ‘ordained,’ and sometimes not even baptized, control and take decisions concerning important ecclesial questions, including the appointment of Bishops, in the name of various State agencies,” referencing the Chinese government taking on the role of appointing bishops, a responsibility which belongs to the Pope in the rest of the world.
Not all Chinese Catholics, however, accepted this intrusion of the state into their faith. Some bishops, priests, and laypersons instead chose to go underground and continue their loyalty to the Pope rather than the government. These Catholics have faced severe persecution by the Chinese state because of their refusal to submit, and several underground bishops and priests have disappeared under suspicious circumstances.
"These Catholics have faced severe persecution by the Chinese state because of their refusal to submit, and several underground bishops and priests have disappeared under suspicious circumstances."
In hopes of healing this rift between the CPA and the underground church, Pope Francis and the Chinese government came to an agreement in September 2018. China stated it would accept the authority of Pope Francis over Catholics within the nation and give him veto power over the bishops the state would recommend for consecration. Pope Francis, in turn, recognized the validity of multiple state-sponsored bishops who had previously been appointed.
However, one month later, in an apparent about-face from the agreement’s conciliatory tone, the Chinese government razed two long-established Catholic shrines in the regions of Shanxi and Guizhou. Citizens have been forced to replace crucifixes and religious icons with photos of Mao Zedong, the Chinese dictator who was responsible for the death of 18 million Chinese in his Great Leap Forward, and the current president Xi Jiping.
Earlier this month, the bishop of Mindong and multiple priests of the diocese were evicted from their chancery building due to, according to the Chinese government, a lack of proper permits, despite the building being only 10 years old. Elsewhere in the city, a home for the elderly which had been in operation for over 20 years was suddenly forced to shut its doors. Residents of both the chancery and the nursing home have had to resort to sleeping on the streets.
Rather than healing the decades-old rift between the CPA and the underground church, the letter signed by Pope Francis giving the Chinese government greater power over the Catholic Church in China seems only to have emboldened the persecution of the Church there.