New rules aim to wipe out China's underground churches

A fresh batch of laws takes aim at some 6 million Catholics and as many as 30 million Protestants, who won't bow to Beijing
New rules aim to wipe out China's underground churches

A Catholic worshipper attends a Mass at the government-sanctioned St. Ignatius Cathedral in Shanghai, in this Sept. 2018 file photo. New rules on religion about to be introduced by Beijing are being views by critics as a move to try and destroy the underground Catholic and Protestant churches in China. (Photo by Johannes Eisele/AFP)

There is no sign that China's ruling Communist Party is close to being satisfied with its efforts to bring organized religion to heel — quite the opposite in fact.

In late December it unveiled a fresh set of rules and regulations to bolster restrictive new laws implemented in February 2018, just months after its program of so-called sinicization of religion was written into the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Constitution.

The new rules cover 41 different topics in a voluminous six chapters and come into force on Feb. 1.

"Religious groups are a bridge and bond that unite and connect the Communist Party of China and people's government with the religious community and religious citizens at large," the introduction to the rules said, according to an unofficial translation by chinatlawtranslate.com

The rules are aimed at making religious groups follow state regulations on the registration and administration of social organizations. They should also be reviewed and approved by religious affairs departments of people's governments.

"Activities must not be carried out in the name of religious groups before a review and approval of people's governments' religious affairs departments or without registration with the people's governments' civil affairs departments."

The religious affairs departments of people's governments "shall perform duties as the professional supervisory unit for religious groups, guiding and supervising" them under relevant state laws, regulations, and rules, the introduction says.

The new rules carry two main themes: they draw a clear distinction between the spiritual or worship aspect of religion, and the civic activities of churches outside places of worship, with a laser-like focus on the underground, or unofficial churches, of both Catholics and Protestants.

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