Central government reins in China's state religious body

Anti-corruption watchdog criticizes China's religious administration, more investigations expected
Central government reins in China's state religious body

The Beijing headquarters of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China. The anti-corruption watchdog of the Chinese Communist Party has criticized the State Administration for Religious Affairs for not paying enough attention to national religious groups in its inspection feedback on June 6.  (ucanews.com photo)  

ucanews.com reporter, Hong Kong
June 10, 2016
The Chinese Communist Party's anti-corruption watchdog has criticized the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) for having weak leadership and not paying enough attention to national religious groups.

The Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, an office tasked with enforcing internal rules and regulations and combating corruption in the Party, delivered its inspection report to the SARA on June 6 and demanded it to rectify problems found.

The inspection made during Feb. 27 to April 27 included conducting extensive talks with individuals, handling grievances from the public, and checking documents and files.

The inspection office has debriefed the Party's elite Politburo Standing Committee about the report's findings before giving feedback to the SARA, according to a June 8 report on the inspection commission's website.

"Outstanding problems" they found include a weak central role in leadership, the implementation of the Party's religious policy not being in place, and not paying enough attention to national religious groups and a lack of supervision of them, said Hu Xinyuan, inspection team leader, in the June 6 meeting.

The SARA was also criticized for violating employment rules by hiring relatives and friends and abusing public funds and allowances.

The inspection team said they found problems with certain SARA leaders and they have passed on those cases to the central inspection commission and the Central Organization Department (the secretariat of the Party that controls staffing positions) for further investigation, Hu said.

Though without being specific on who is being investigated, observers see that Hu's statement implies more officials may face a probe following the sacking of the first SARA official Zhang Lebin in 2015.

SARA director Wang Zuoan described the inspection as a comprehensive "political examination" and his department sincerely accepts the report's findings. The SARA will set up a specialized office to formulate plans to remedy the problems, he said.

The Chinese government recognizes five major religions—Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Daoism. Each religion has at least one national organization overseeing it.

For the Catholic Church, the national organization is the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops' Conference. Both organizations are not recognized by the Vatican. Catholics in China often criticize the CCPA as being a government tool for controlling the church.

The inspection result was no surprise to observers in and outside of the country.

"The report is not really about anti-corruption. It has said explicitly about insufficient control on national religious groups. Religions have always been the scourge of the party," said a priest who identified himself as Father Joseph.

"So one can expect a tightening of the controls on religions later as this is a way for officials to get a promotion," said Father Joseph.

Another priest in Hebei also agreed to the view of a tightening of controls, noting that a recent hiring post for a CCPA worker in one diocese required the candidate have a university degree in Marxism. The position was also to directly report to the local religious affairs bureau.

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Observers also say that the report's findings also reflected a top-level meeting on National Conference of Religious Work on April 22-23.

Chinese commentator Gu Ziming said on his Wechat public account that when President Xi Jinping stressed in his speech that the religious officials "must insist the party's basic direction on religious work," the word "must" means he is criticizing them for not doing so.

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