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Pro-Beijing bishop backs China’s ‘sinicization of religion’

The policy is crucial for the survival and development of Catholic Church in China, says Bishop Shen Bin

Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai, China.

Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai, China. (Photo: UCAN files)

Published: November 10, 2023 10:23 AM GMT

Updated: November 10, 2023 11:53 AM GMT

A senior leader of the state-sanctioned Catholic Church in China has called on Catholics to support and advance the communist government’s controversial ‘sinicization of religion’ policy, says a report.

Chinese Catholics need to support the state’s sinicization of religion for the survival and development of the Church, Bishop Joseph Shen Bin of Shanghai, chairman of the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC), said in a recent interview, ChinaAid reported on Nov. 8.

Academically, sinicization of religion refers to the indigenization of religious faith, practice and ritual in Chinese culture and society, according to the Lausanne Movement.

However, the sinicization promoted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) 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 party leadership. 

“Sinicization is a directional issue: a signpost and a direction to adapt to the socialist society, as well as an inherent rule and a fundamental requirement for the survival and development of the Catholic Church in China itself,” Shen told state news agency, China News Service, in October.

“Sinicization is not to change religious beliefs, but to better adapt and integrate into society; starting from serving the country for the big picture, to serving the Church’s mission of pastoral evangelization, and to firmly push forward with sinicization,” he was quoted as saying.  

Shen, vice-chairman of the state-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), further stated that the Chinese Catholic Church, represented by “One Association, One Conference” has always insisted on providing education and guidance to clergy members and believers to enhance their political identification with contemporary Chinese society.

And to continuously strengthen ideological and political education centered on patriotism, which is the basis for adhering to the direction of sinicization, he added.  

Shen Bin put forward three aspects to promote the sinicization of Catholicism – strengthening ideological and political education, comprehensive and strict governance of the Church, and strengthening learning and communication, the report stated. 

Interpreting Catholic doctrine in the context of sinicization is crucial, he said.

“This means to provide the explanations of theological classics, doctrines and canons that align with the requirements of socialist core values. Through cultural infusion, the Church incorporates elements and characteristics of Chinese culture in church liturgy, architecture, arts and more; aiming to establish a Catholic theological framework with Chinese characteristics, which can be used as a guide to put sinicization of Catholicism into practice,” he explained. 

He pointed out that the Catholics are trying to incorporate traditional Chinese music into newly composed church hymns, elements of traditional Chinese architecture into newly built churches, and so on. 

Advancing the practice of sinicization of religion solidly is essential in making the Chinese Catholic Church a harmonious factor and positive force in the modernization of socialism, he added.

Observers say Bishop Shen's statement on sinicization is “political in nature, aligning with the government’s official political declaration.” 

Shen, 53, has been long known for his allegiance to the CCP leadership. He is among high-ranking church leaders who promote the “love the country and the church” policy.

He is a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a political advisory body of the CCP.

Born into a Catholic family in Qidong in 1970, he was ordained a priest in 1996.

He was ordained the bishop of Haimen Diocese in 2010 and was recognized both by the government and the Vatican.

In April, Shen was unilaterally transferred to Shanghai Diocese, a move the Vatican decried as a violation of the 2018 Sino-Vatican Agreement.

Pope Francis later approved the transfer and his installation as the bishop of China’s largest Diocese.

China broke formal diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951 following the communist takeover. The nation’s millions of Catholics are divided into state-run and Vatican-aligned Churches.

The 2018 secretive deal, renewed twice in 2020 and 2022, sought to appoint bishops in China with the approval of both the Vatican and Beijing. Since then, several bishops have been ordained with the approval of both parties.

Critics of the deal termed it “a betrayal” of Chinese Catholics who remained loyal to the pope despite the state purge.

Rights groups have accused the communist regime of a renewed crackdown to dismantle the independent church since the deal was signed.

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