Temporary churches, such as this one in Wenzhou, seen in 2015, could be at risk from new rules issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs. (ucanews.com photo)
Chinese Catholics are concerned about a State Administration for Religious Affairs circular that requires organizers of religious activities at temporary sites to seek guidance from government-recognized church organizations.
They fear it will mean that Catholic underground communities and Protestant house churches will come under greater control.
It was reported that the June 1 circular was a result of revised religious affairs regulations implemented on Feb. 1.
The notice stated that religious believers who were registered residents, had no criminal record and possessed certain religious knowledge can apply for temporary religious activities.
Sites must apply to local authorities for a three-year validity period. The number of people attending activities was also stipulated.
Article 13 stated: "Religious groups have guiding responsibilities for the activities of temporary events. The activities of temporary events should receive guidance from religious organizations."
On June 2, Professor Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the divinity school at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, wrote on his Facebook page that if a house church applies for a temporary site, the China Christian Council and the national committee of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement can provide "opinions" about the applications.
"It is well known that many house churches are reluctant to register and are willing to be an illegal organization because they do not want to be under the two organizations," he wrote.
"The notice that requires family churches to accept guidance by the two organizations is an attempt to use the name of guidance to force the family church to establish a substantial relationship with them."
Ying questioned whether the move might interfere with the arrangements of religious affairs, such as sacraments, ceremonial rituals, theological interpretations, and pastoral training and cultivation of believers.
He said many family church co-workers were not recognized because they had not registered with authorities.
Ying stated last month that the recent crackdown on various Catholic and Protestant communities was the result of more than two years of organization and preparation at provincial, city and county level through the Chinese Communist Party's increasingly powerful United Front Work Department,
Father Wang of northeast China told ucanews.com that the notice was intended to control Catholic underground churches and Protestant house churches, and they would not be allowed to hold religious activities at temporary sites.
He said underground churches were illegal and would not be registered on their own initiative, so the provisions would have little effect on them, but he believed they would impose many restrictions on open churches.
Hebei Catholic Philip and Henan priest Peter both believed if the notice was strictly enforced, it would be more demanding for the Catholic Church because the Patriotic Association would be in control. "How is this possible?" Philip said.