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The Crackdown Continues

The ongoing persecution of Christians in China.

May 23, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 34 • By MEGHAN CLYNE
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Threats and intimidation, too, play a role. Cardinal Zen noted the case of Bishop Feng Xinmao, who resisted attending the Conference of Chinese Catholic Representatives convened in Beijing in December to select new leaders for the government-controlled Catholic “church.” According to Cardinal Zen, “more than 100 police” were dispatched “to ensure that the bishop [went] to the meeting.” The man selected at the conference to head the state-run Catholic organization was Ma Yinglin—a bishop named by the Catholic Patriotic Association (the “official” Catholic church) in 2006 without Vatican approval. The USCIRF notes that Ma was also at the center of a controversy surrounding the April 2010 ordination of another, legitimate bishop, Paul Meng. Bishop Du Jiang—who is recognized by the Vatican—resisted attending Meng’s ceremony because Ma would be present. As the USCIRF report states, Bishop Du was later placed under house arrest.

And in January, the State Administration of Religious Affairs released its priorities for managing religious activity in 2011. According to a translation and analysis made available by the Congressional Executive Commission on China, the objectives include “guiding” Protestants who “participate in activities at unauthorized gathering places” to worship instead at churches controlled by the state. How exactly that “guiding” would occur was left to the imagination.

China’s restrictions on education and speech effectively snuff religious activity. Shea, who is also a USCIRF commissioner, describes a “web of regulations controlled by avowed atheists”: restrictions on minors’ being educated about faith; bans on preaching against abortion; prohibitions against teaching, discussing, or debating issues central to Christianity​—​topics like Creation or the Apocalypse. “When there’s a conflict between the faith and morals of the Christian church and Communist government policy,” Shea explains, “Communist government policy wins out.”

The regime has also sought to interfere with church management and administration​—​especially in the case of the Catholic church. In 2007, Beijing and Rome reached an accord whereby the Holy See would be allowed to approve and ordain bishops who had been vetted and selected by the Catholic Patriotic Association, thereby allowing bishops to affiliate with Rome openly (an estimated 90 percent of CPA bishops and priests are believed to have been secretly ordained by the Catholic church). The upside, at least for Rome, was a reduced likelihood of schism. But in November 2010, the CPA named Guo Jincai as bishop of Chengde without Vatican approval​—​a move that has drawn considerable anger and concern. “I have seen it with my own eyes,” Zen said. “Our bishops are being humiliated.”

Yet even when the Holy See does condone ordinations, as long as the government controls who becomes a member of the clergy, there is always a risk of divided loyalties and a high danger of infiltration. During his visit to Washington, Cardinal Zen lamented measures that had been taken within the Vatican itself​—​particularly regarding a 2007 letter from Pope Benedict XVI to Chinese Catholics. Zen says that a Belgian priest working in the Vatican, Father Jeroom Heyndrickx, played a role in mistranslating the letter into Chinese. The translation circulated in China urged Chinese Catholics to come out into the open and affiliate with the CPA; the pope’s original intent in the letter, Zen says, was the exact opposite​—​he was issuing a warning to “underground” Catholics about the likelihood that joining the “official” church would require them to contravene Catholic teaching. Some within the Vatican, Zen says, have pursued a policy of Ostpolitik, being too willing to compromise with China, whatever the cost.

Such a policy is not without precedent, of course. In the second volume of his biography of Pope John Paul II, The End and the Beginning, George Weigel discloses that the Vatican reached a similar accord about the nomination of bishops with Communist Hungary in the 1960s. Its reward? For over two decades, the Hungarian bishops’ conference in Rome became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hungarian state, its clergy serving as agents of Budapest and Moscow. Representative Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who works extensively on human rights in China, argues that Beijing is determined to go further. “The Chinese government did a ‘lessons learned’ from the demise of the Soviet empire,” Smith says. “[They] saw what the backbone of democracy and freedom was​—​by and large it was church people.” Shea adds that Beijing’s harsh repression reflects the Chinese government’s terror that the free exercise of faith could topple a regime without warning.

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