China's church is being poisoned by the Party's meddling

Seminaries in China are receiving a tough review but there is something more sinister at work
China's church is being poisoned by the Party's meddling

Chinese government and public security officials monitor journalists and delay the start of a religious parade at the Catholic cathedral in Donglu, Hebei Province on May 26, 2013. Police surrounded a Chinese village to prevent pilgrims from joining a Catholic parade to honor the Virgin Mary, who locals say appeared in the village a century ago. (Photo by AFP)

In July, a conference was held by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) and Bishops' Conference of Catholic Church in China, both government-sanctioned church organizations, to help implement recommendations by the Party's Central Disciplinary Committee after its inspection of the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA).

Each seminary had to report the state of their ideological and political education to the conference in order to correct issues in Catholic education identified by the government inspection. Also on the agenda was the revision of "Teaching Materials for the Independent and Self-governing Catholic Church in China," originally compiled by the CCPA in 2002.

It is understandable that seminaries need to publish teaching materials but the new curriculum is not the normal teaching of the church because they have strong political inclinations.

A SARA report was read out at the conference suggesting (or demanding) that education materials must encourage the "sinicization" of the Chinese Catholic Church and reflect on the significance of the "China Dream." Teachings should also align with Chinese President Xi Jinping's "four self-confidence" philosophy.

It's clear whose reality is to be encouraged within the Chinese church and this distortion in the church's essential teaching causes a number of problems.

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First, using history and facts to address and explain church doctrines is actually a manipulation because how real are facts and history under Communist China? If history is tweaked and spun, how can it give a correct and reasonable explanation of church doctrine and rules?

Also, how can we arbitrarily interpret doctrine based on the Chinese government's current feeling? If this were allowed, then everyone could interpret and change church doctrine at any time. This is totally in contradiction with the philosophy of a "universal church."

Secondly, using the "four self-confidence" to interpret the reality of the Catholic Church in China is an idea without a reasonable grounding. What is the "four self-confidence?" It comes from President Xi's address at a Party congress on July 1, 2016.

"[The party should] not forget its original aim," Xi said. "It should continue to walk ahead, with self-confidence [and] maintain… socialism with Chinese characteristics, with self-confidence about its theory, self-confidence about its system and with self-confidence about its culture; unswervingly adhering to the Party's basic line and continuously pushing forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics."

If anyone does not understand what Xi meant, an article by Chen Shuiyong, associate professor at the Ideology and Politics Department of Guangdong University of Education, explained the political meaning behind it.

"The ‘four self-confidence' is to eliminate the psychology of worshipping everything foreign," Chan noted in his article. "The substantial behavior of worshipping foreign things is having blind faith in everything that comes from the West, readily copying western life style, values, system and development model."

The "four self-confidence" is nothing to do with confidence but merely narrow-minded xenophobia. Under such mentality we would be an isolated country with our door closed to everyone.

If these beliefs infect the teaching materials of our seminaries than I fear that the church's position will be lost and replaced with a "church with Chinese characteristics" contradicting its essential, universal nature.

The CCPA and the bishops' conference are not helping to develop healthy seminaries but are becoming the accomplice of Chinese authorities and their mission to finally destroy the church's independence.

The aim of the conference was to discuss and rectify the feedback of the central inspection team after its review of SARA. But in reality it was a butcher's knife that hacked away at the fundamental rights of the church.

The Catholic Church in China is gradually coming under the control of the government authorities and the primacy of the Holy See is being eroded by the establishment of a church with "Chinese characteristics."

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