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China's Catholic leaders vow to accelerate sinicization

10th National Congress of Catholicism in China elects new leaders who vow to toe Communist Party line
Participants attend the 10th National Congress on Catholicism in China in Wuhan on Aug. 18-20

Participants attend the 10th National Congress on Catholicism in China in Wuhan on Aug. 18-20. (Photo: BCCCC)

Published: August 23, 2022 07:10 AM GMT
Updated: August 23, 2022 07:22 AM GMT

Two state-sponsored Church bodies in China have elected new leaders during a five-yearly national conference who promised to invigorate the Catholic faithful pastorally in line with the socialist principles of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The three-day 10th National Congress of Catholicism in China ended in Wuhan, the capital of Hebei province in central China, on Aug. 20. Senior officials from the CCP also attended the gathering and delivered speeches.

The meeting attended by some 345 Catholic bishops, clergy, and religious from across China ended with the election of new leaders of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), says a report on the BCCCC website.  

Archbishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing was elected chairman of the CCPA and Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Haimen was voted in as the new BCCCC chairman.

The delegates also unanimously accepted the Work Report of the 9th Standing Committee on Church efforts and activities in the promotion of patriotism, socialism, and sinicization in the Catholic Church as outlined by President Xi Jinping.

The new leaders have issued a statement to commit themselves to engaging priests, religious, and laypeople including elders across the country for pastoral evangelization and further promotion of sinicization for “truth, pragmatism and inspiration” to move ahead toward a “bright future.”

"It is important to adhere to the direction of sinicization of Catholicism in China"

Sinicization is a profoundly political ideology that aims to impose strict rules on societies and institutions based on the core values of socialism, autonomy, and supporting the leadership of the CCP.

The statement also highlighted the need for the Catholic Church to implement the spirit of the National Conference on Religious Affairs held last December, and fulfill the requirement of the CCP Central Committee for the Catholic Church in China.

During that conference on Dec. 3-4, Xi stressed the strict implementation of Marxist policies, increased online surveillance, and tightening control of religion to ensure national security.

“It is necessary to unite and lead the priests, elders and faithful to follow Xi Jinping’s thought on socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a ‘New Era,’ continue to hold high patriotism and love for religion, adhere to the principles of independent and self-run churches,” the bishops’ statement said.

The Church leaders said they find it is important to adhere to the direction of sinicization of Catholicism in China to “vigorously strengthen the building of patriotic forces” to realize “the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Following the communist takeover in 1949, China severed diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

The communist government formed the CCPA in 1957 to assert control over the Catholic Church. Many Catholics refused to join the state-controlled body and continued to pledge allegiance to the pope and the universal Church.  

China has about 12 million Catholics split between patriotic and underground churches, independent researchers say.

For years, the appointment of bishops remained a bone of contention between the CCP and the Vatican with Beijing appointing and consecrating bishops without a Vatican mandate.   

In 2018, the Vatican signed a provisional agreement with China for two years over the appointment of bishops, which was renewed for another two years in 2020. The provisions of the agreement have not been made public.

The Vatican reportedly seeks to unite Catholics divided between two churches with the deal, while it gives the Vatican a say to accept or veto bishops selected by Beijing.

Since 2018, six bishops have been ordained with approval from both China and the Vatican. Pope Francis has also recognized seven “illicit bishops” who were ordained without a papal mandate.

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