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China convicts Catholic priest for ‘fraud’

Father Joseph Yang Xiaoming has allegedly drawn the ire of authorities for not joining state-run church bodies
Chinese Catholic clergy attend a Mass on Christmas Eve at a Catholic church in Beijing in 2018

Chinese Catholic clergy attend a Mass on Christmas Eve at a Catholic church in Beijing in 2018. (Photo: AFP)

Published: September 15, 2023 06:50 AM GMT
Updated: September 15, 2023 07:30 AM GMT

A court in Communist China has convicted a Catholic priest for “fraud” for allegedly refusing to join state-run organizations including the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), says a report.

The court imposed administrative penalties on Father Joseph Yang Xiaoming for “impersonating religious personnel,” as per charges leveled by the Religious Affairs Office of Longwan district in Wenzhou, rights group ChinaAid reported on Sept. 13.

The bureau started proceedings against Yang on May 11, 2021, after he did not register with the government’s religious affairs department and other Communist Party-controlled organizations following his ordination.

Unnamed sources within China alleged that the move was “political persecution” aimed at choking religious freedom in the country and said that governments should not meddle in the internal affairs of religious entities.

“This is actual political persecution and a blatant violation of religious freedom and international conventions,” the unnamed source said.

“The acquisition of qualifications for religious personnel should be an internal affair of each religious community, which enjoys full freedom in this regard,” the source added.

“Under the modern international principle of separation of church and state, the government should not intervene in the internal affairs of religions,” the unnamed source said.

Yang was reportedly ordained by Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, a Vatican-approved bishop who was arrested by the Chinese authorities several times for his refusal to join state-run church bodies.

Yang was accused of “carrying out religious activities under the guise of a religious personnel or obtaining money by fraud and other illegal activities.”

The court imposed administrative penalties on him including the cessation of his [priestly] activities, the confiscation of illegal proceeds of 28,473.33 yuan (US$3,913), and a fine of 1,526.67 yuan (US$210).

Yang had challenged the local bureau's allegation and had termed the move as “unjust” and a “violation of Canon Law,” ChinaAid reported.

Reportedly, he presented his certificate of ordination in court and the Religious Affairs Bureau acknowledged the certificate as valid.

In August, local authorities detained Pastor Park Kwang-Zhe of the New Life Christian Church accusing him of "disturbing social order" for allegedly not joining a state-sanctioned church body.

In the same month, China released its “Measures on the Administration of Religious Activity Venues” which severely restricts establishment and registration procedures for venues. But the measures also set forth management rules and stipulations for managing personnel.

The regulations specify the establishment of supervisors for religious activity sites and impose conditional limitations on internal management within these sites.

China’s Constitution allows freedom of religion or belief. However, the Chinese Communist Party is accused of having violated the rights of religious groups for decades, though it recognizes five organized religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism.

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