China: Repression of “Underground” Catholics Continues

Source: FSSPX News

Baoding Cathedral

A very interesting article from the website Bitter Winter, “A magazine on religious liberty and human rights,” takes a look at the persecution and repression of Catholics who refuse to yield to the demands of the Chinese government regarding membership in the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). The article is written by He Yuyan, but that is a pseudonym.

The author studies a diocese representative of this religious persecution of Chinese Catholics: the Diocese of Baoding. It is lead by Bishop Francis An Shuxin, who was firstly Auxiliary Bishop in 1993, then Coadjutor Bishop in 2007, and then appointed residential Bishop in 2010.

Bitter Winter (BW) notes that the bishop “was once part of the underground Catholic Church but later joined the Patriotic Association,” and his authority “is contested by the conscientious objectors.” By “underground Catholic Church” is meant the Catholic Church loyal to the Vatican and the Catholics who refuse to join the CPA, which is dependent on the government.

BW recalls that “Its bishops, priests, and laypersons were persecuted for decades.” According to the site, the “The Vatican-China deal of 2018 called for the gradual merger of the Underground Catholic Church into the Catholic Patriotic Association, creating one single Chinese Church whose bishops will be selected jointly by the CCP and the Vatican and appointed by the Pope.

“After the deal, the Vatican claimed that the Underground Church as such no longer existed, although the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 allow Catholic conscientious objectors to remain outside the Patriotic Association for reasons of conscience.”

The “Conscientious Objectors”

BW explains that it is a matter of “Catholics, particularly priests and bishops, who refuse to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.” It’s important to recall that membership in the CPA is “both allowed and regulated by the Vatican Guidelines of 2019.” The Holy See therefore “encouraged the Catholics to join the once excommunicated Patriotic Catholic Church, controlled by the government,” BW relates.

Rome also “clarified that those who refuse to do so for reasons of conscience, although not encouraged nor approved by the Vatican, are not excommunicated, are still part of the Catholic Church, and should be treated with ‘respect.’”

“The Diocese of Baoding, [...] in Hebei province, at some 150 kilometers from Beijing, has emerged as a center of Catholic conscientious objection.” But the CCP “is expressing its ‘respect’ to the Catholic conscientious objectors [...] by arresting them,” He Yuyan comments.

“Baoding’s underground Catholic community is one of the most affected by China’s crackdown on religious freedom,” AsiaNews notes. It adds: “several priests have been subjected to guanzhi, a restriction on movement and activity that can last up to three years, during which they are subjected to political [reeducation] sessions and coercion to join the official ‘Catholic’ bodies controlled by the Communist Party of China.”

Recently, BW reports, “Human rights organizations have now learned that two leaders of Catholic conscientious objection in Baoding, Father Chi Huitian and Professor Chen Hekun, who were ‘disappeared’ in April, have still not reappeared. Other Catholic conscientious objectors jailed in Baoding were submitted to heavy indoctrination in jail.

“Despite the severe persecution, the movement of Catholic conscientious objectors continues to thrive.” And, BW remarks, “It is not a group of old priests and laypersons incapable of understanding the new times,” because “conscientious objection appears to be popular among Catholic youth.”

AsiaNews points out: “It should be noted that the Diocese of Baoding is also where, as AsiaNews reported, local authorities adopted exceptional security measures last Christmas, such as traffic barriers and bus route diversions to avoid the cathedral area, as well as preventing children from attending Christmas Vigil and banning the display of Christmas-themed objects in university dormitories.

These reminders explain the strong resistance put up by true Catholics in China and by those who have lived under this persecution, who know the perverse reality of the CPA and who, according to the words of Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, “have faith in Jesus Christ, while Cardinal Pietro Parolin—principal promoter of the agreement—has faith in diplomacy.”