Catholic Pilgrims pray at the Sheshan Marian Shrine in Shanghai
Several priests have spoken out against comments made by China’s Foreign Ministry yesterday which dismissed a US government report that criticizes the state of religious freedom in the country.
The US State Department on Monday identified eight “countries of particular concern” including China in its annual International Religious Freedom Report.
It said there was a marked deterioration during 2011 in the Chinese government’s respect for and protection of religious freedom.
In response, the official Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei as saying yesterday, “The Chinese people are best qualified to judge China's religious situation.”
He urged the US to discard prejudice, respect the facts and view China's policy on religion and religious freedom in an objective and impartial way.
He also called on the US to stop using religious issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs and not to act in ways that damage bilateral relations, mutual trust and cooperation.
After hearing the ministry’s reply, one Shanghai priest said, “I would not have offered an opinion in the past. But after the recent incident in my diocese, I think what other people [the US] have said is not without reason.”
He was referring to Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, who was restricted from exercising his episcopal ministry after he proclaimed at his July 7 ordination he would quit the government-sanctioned Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA).
“Chinese officials should no longer work behind closed doors and feel good about themselves. They should learn to respect their people’s freedom,” said the priest who requested anonymity.
“Are the Chinese people really qualified to judge? Do we judge from our inner hearts or from someone’s will? We have no right to judge; otherwise the Bishop Ma incident would not have happened,” he added.
Referring to China’s apparent disregard for international opinion, he said, “Why is it that China does not have friends on the international stage? How can you expect others to respect you when you don’t respect your own people’s rights?” The priest urged Beijing to reflect on its religious policy.
Another priest, Father John Baptist, mocked Foreign Ministry claims, calling them self-confident.
“The CPA’s function has gone far beyond its claim as a bridge between the Church and the government," he said. "In fact, it became a tool to control the Church without revealing the ruling authority is the real executioner.”
China’s so-called religious freedom merely exists within a sphere limited by the government, which “allows you to believe in an ‘alien Catholicism’ that does not comply with the orthodox Catholic faith,” said Father John Baptist.
“Can this be called freedom?” he asked.
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