Chinese religious affairs officials have recommended that a priest be disqualified for leading a pilgrimage. Observers said it was believed to be the first such case under new religious regulations
that came into effect nationwide on Feb. 1. The Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs maintained that the priest acted in contradiction of religious Sinicization
that aims to supplant outside influences with Chinese cultural and social norms. The bureau in Changan district of Hebei province issued a letter dated June 11 to Shijiazhuang Diocese and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association calling for the disqualification. Father Sun Linghui, who belongs to the so-called open church, was said to have on May 4 taken a group of pilgrims to northern Shanxi province
, where there has been a Catholic community since the 17th century. The pilgrimage was claimed to have had an "extremely bad" social impact that justified suspension of Father Sun's missionary activities and cancellation of his official registration. A provision of the new regulations was cited requiring action within 30 days of receipt of the letter, including appointment of a priest to replace him. Article 73 of the new regulations states that any person who conducts unauthorized religious activities can have property or income confiscated as well as being banned from their clerical role. The letter dealing primarily with Father Sun more generally calls on the patriotic association to toughen its supervision of prelates in order to maintain social harmony. Father Sun noted that, despite the recommendation, there had been no decision yet on his disqualification. “Pray for me and the church,” he said by telephone. He added: “That's it, that's it." Then he discontinued the call. A source who did not want to be named told ucanews.com that the bid to remove Father Sun could be related to tensions between the priest and a leader of the local Tangu Catholic church. The sourced added that some other church members, also opposed to Father Sun, could have reported his involvement in the pilgrimage to Chinese religious affairs officials. Others noted that, regardless, Father Sun was still being victimized under the regulations covering religious practice. "What is the problem for a priest to take the faithful on a pilgrimage?" one church member queried. "It is our church’s internal affair and the pilgrimage is good for our faith." The disqualification recommendation contradicted Chinese constitutional protection of religious freedom, the church member added.