Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the “Holy See’s Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples”, which is responsible for “missionary” activities, claimed that the “Sino-Vatican Arrangement” was of historical “significance”, but admitted that he looked at the “deal with some perplexity”, just like many Chinese Catholics.
The provisional agreement on the “selection” of Chinese bishops, which the Vatican and China signed last September does not appear to be “producing” the results expected by the “Pope and the Roman Church.”
Recent events have indeed shown that the agreement’s conclusion has not stopped the Chinese government’s “repression of Catholic prelates, priests and followers.”
In the latest Christian drama in China, Catholic news agency “Asia News” reported that at least seven churches and their communities had been suppressed in recent months in the diocese of Qiqihar, in Heilongjiang province.
It is significant that the local bishop, Monsignor Giuseppe Wei Jingyi, is “recognized“ by the Vatican, but not by Chinese authorities.
A panel of experts painted a “bleak” picture of government-led “persecutions” of all religions during a conference on “religious freedom” in China held at the EU Parliament in Brussels.
In regard to Chinese Christians, Father Bernardo Cervellera, editor of “Asia News”, said on January 23 that the Chinese Communist Party had proclaimed a real religious war against them, “all in the name of security and nationalistic patriotism.”
Catholics in China particularly suffered “hardships” during Christmas festivities. Masses were “monitored” by the police, and young people under the age of 18 were prevented from taking part.
Local authorities in Fujian, Hebei, Shaanxi and Yunnan provinces reportedly banned Christmas celebrations and decorations in some cases, because they were considered a Western attack on Chinese “tradition and culture.”
There has also been a problem of “forced vacations,” such as that of Monsignor Peter Shao Zhumin, bishop of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province, as well as political and ideological indoctrination of priests in different parts of the country.
Underground Catholic communities are a frequent target of the Chinese government’s “crackdown” on religious freedom. These “unofficial” churches are loyal to the Pope and not recognized by the ”Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” and the “Chinese Catholic Bishops Conference”, two state-sponsored entities now under the supervision of the Chinese Communist Party’s “Central United Front Work Department.”
However, Cervellera noted that both communities have actually suffered “violations and were at risk of becoming extinct”, the official organization because of the “stifling control of the government and the Communist Party machine,” the underground church from “arrests, disappearances, killings and destruction.”
Under the new “Religious Affairs Regulation”, which came into effect February last year, the situation has become even “worse” for unofficial Catholic priests and believers. At the Brussels conference, it emerged that at least 30 Catholic churches were “closed and destroyed in 2018.”
Chinese authorities had already “intensified” their control of religious activities with the “tightening” of the country’s Criminal Law in 2015. Article 300 is often used to “punish” worshipers, according to humanitarian organizations.
Supporters of the interim agreement emphasize that the Pope is now formally recognized as “head” of the Catholic Church in China and that an actual process of “reconciliation” between the official and the underground communities is underway.
Many “dispute” this optimistic outlook, and talk instead of “blackmail.” Cervellera quoted an underground Chinese bishop as saying he was told by Pope Francis that China had “threatened” to ordain 45 bishops autonomously if the “agreement” was not inked. That would have set out the basis for a “real schism”, given that the Roman Church claims “ecclesial appointments are the pontiff’s prerogative.”
In a strongly worded statement, the Vatican has condemned the “illicit” ordination of a Chinese bishop without papal approval. Paul Lei Shiyin was ordained a bishop by the Chinese government backed Church.
Still, during a symposium in Jiangsu province last December, an official from the “Communist Party’s United Front” reportedly urged local seminaries to step up ideological and political education against any attempt by foreign religious organizations and foreign powers – “such as the Holy See” – to interfere in the affairs of the Catholic
In this respect, the “control” exerted by Chinese authorities over fast-growing “religious” groups seems to be only one piece of a wider “strategy” to propel further the centralization of “power” in the hands of President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party.
Taking into account the big picture, the chances of seeing “religious freedom” arise in China from the Sino-Vatican deal look “bleak, if not impossible.”