Despite Vatican-China deal, Chinese Catholics continue to face persecution

The report said that all religions, including the state-controlled ones, have suffered from China’s "aggressive repression on religious freedom"

Despite a deal between China and the Vatican, Catholics in the Chinese mainland are still being persecuted, claimed a new report released last week by the US Congressional-Executive Commission.

The report said that the China-Vatican agreement has not prevented “Chinese authorities in some places” to detain members of the clergy and to pressure them to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

It cited “horrors” that the Chinese government and the Communist Party allegedly perpetrated against Chinese Catholics.

The Catholic clergy in China are reportedly forced to sign a pledge agreeing to the concept of an “independent church” while “unregistered” churches are closed and Masses and other church events canceled.

The situation of religious groups, even those authorized by the state, has gone from “bad to worse” under President Xi Jinping, said the report.

It said that the Chinese government used the pretext of the pandemic to target all forms of dissent, including “illegal” religions.

In October 2020, the Holy See extended a 2018 agreement with Beijing, keeping its power to appoint bishops in China for another two years.

In turn, the Vatican has to recognize the bishops initially appointed by the government of Xi Jinping.

Pope Francis described the agreement as a move “to reestablish and preserve the full and visible unity of the Catholic community in China.”

The US report noted that the state-sanctioned Church and the Holy See had jointly approved at least five bishops under the agreement as of February 2021, in addition to the Holy See’s approval of seven bishops previously appointed by Chinese authorities.

One of the most vocal opponents of the agreement, Hong Kong Archbishop Emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen, however, said the Communist Party used the deal to advance its crackdown on Chinese Catholics.

“Some in the underground Church now feel betrayed after having been encouraged by the Holy See for years to persist in the underground Church,” said the report.

In this picture taken on March 5, 2018, Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, former Bishop of Hong Kong, gestures during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen has earned a reputation as a fighter that pits him against Vatican officials and Beijing over a deal he believes would devastate the Catholic Church. (Photo by Anthony Wallace / AFP)

In November, after the renewal of the deal, Father Lu Genjun, former vicar general of the Diocese of Baoding, was taken into custody by government forces with more than a dozen of seminarians and nuns.

Meanwhile, Bishop Giacomo Su Zhimin of Baoding remains missing since his disappearance in 1997. 

The report said that all religions, including the state-controlled ones, have suffered from China’s “aggressive repression on religious freedom.”

A San Francisco-based Chinese human rights organization, Dui Hua Foundation, meanwhile, said in a separate report that the Falun Gong and the Almighty God sects are the most persecuted unorthodox religious groups in China.

Dui Hua cited information from the database of China Judgments Online that listed 27,021 prisoners belonging to unorthodox religious groups for alleged violation of Article 300 of China’s Criminal Law that warrants prosecution of illegal religions.

“About 90% of the unorthodox religious prisoners with records in the [database] are practitioners of Falun Gong or Almighty God,” the rights group said in its own report.

It noted that there were 21,550 Falun Gong prisoners, making up 82 percent of the total unorthodox religious prisoners in the record. Up to 2,096 members of Almighty God are also listed on the database.

The report, however, said that despite growing pessimism about China’s religious freedom, “history reminds us that banned religious groups have been able to find cracks in the system and evade stringent state controls.”

“Unorthodox religious groups, too, can find similar ways to persist, evolve, and reinvent themselves despite an increasingly repressive religious ecology—something Xi and his successors cannot fully contain,” it added.

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