Chinese official decries foreign religious meddling

Senior Communist Party leader stresses need for Catholics and other faithful to shun outside interference
Chinese official decries foreign religious meddling

A Catholic choir rehearses after a Mass at the government-sanctioned South Cathedral in Beijing. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP) reporter, Hong Kong
April 4, 2019
A Chinese communist official has stressed that state controls over religion aim to prevent unwarranted foreign interference while seeming to concede that the process of localization might take longer than some people think.

Wang Zuoan, deputy minister of the party's United Front Work Department, on March 26 published a signed commentary dealing with so-called Sinicization of the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

Writing in the state-run Zhongguo Minzu Bao newspaper, he insisted there must be Communist Party leadership in relation to religious practice taking into account "geopolitical" factors.

The official, who also serves as director of the country's National Religious Affairs Administration, said Sinicization sought to turn "religions in China" into "religions of China."

Regarding Catholicism, Wang focused on the official requirement for the China Church to be autonomous from foreign powers in order to allow for "self-electing" of bishops and converting "underground forces" into being loyal to the state.

Professor Wang Meixiu, a retired researcher on Catholic studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told "It shows that the government has kept their policies unchanged after signing with the Vatican the provisional agreement on bishops’ appointments."

In September last year, an agreement was reached that allowed the official Chinese side to select bishop candidates, with the Vatican only having a veto power.

There has since been considerable debate as to whether the Vatican cleverly used the deal to clear the way for future growth of Catholicism in China or naively gave too much control of church affairs to the Communist Party.

Pope Francis, when calling for Chinese government-sanctioned and underground Catholics to reconcile, conceded that the agreement may have caused confusion.

Professor Wang said the timing of the latest official commentary warranted attention because it coincided with celebrations by national and provincial administrations of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling communist regime.

The commentary, according to the academic, hinted at a steady but less progressive approach to the imposition of controls on religious organizations.

She added that while reminding the religious sector of the requirement to accept party leadership, it also advised relevant government departments that Sinicization would require a long-term effort rather than being achieved overnight.

The Communist Party sees Sinicization as incorporating both nationalism and Chinese cultural characteristics in areas ranging from architecture to sacred music and liturgy.

One Catholic, who identified himself as John, believed that the communist regime continues to see the underground church community as an enemy and regards the Vatican as a foreign power without directly naming it.

He said that having real authority to freely carry out pastoral activities was more in "Rome’s imagination" than reflective of current realities in China.

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