The Chinese national flag flies in front of a Catholic church in the village of Huangtugang, Hebei province, China. CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters

Chinese rules spark concern over Church

By 
  • November 1, 2019

HONG KONG -- Weeks after the first anniversary of the deal between the Vatican and the People’s Republic of China on the appointment of bishops — the first formal agreement between the two countries since the 1950s — Beijing promulgated a fresh batch of regulations governing places of worship.

The new rules released in October are the latest in a string of regulations that many in the Chinese Church believe are designed to stymie worship, the operations of parishes and dioceses as well as the growth of the Church.

The latest rules — described as the “Template for a Charter on Legal People in Religious Activity Venues” — require all venues undertaking religious activities or worship to formulate a “charter” that details their activities, including a section that gives examples of actual situations. The charters must be approved by local religious regulators.

One person who runs a parish in a rural area of northern Hebei province told ucanews.org the rules were impractical and “incomprehensible.”

“Most Catholics in rural villages have a low level of education. There are no accounting personnel, nor any money to employ them. The Religious Affairs Bureau has repeatedly asked us to employ accounting personnel, but it is simply difficult for us to do so,” said the leader, who asked not to be identified. People speaking out about religion in China almost invariably ask to remain anonymous or take a pseudonym for fear of reprisals from authorities.

“We are all peasants. We do our farming and then we are going out to do other work, too. We don’t have any extra time to establish a democratic administration committee, nor to have meetings once a month. These are not accomplishable for us.”

There has been a near-constant stream of decrees from Beijing for the past two-and-a-half years, under the broad umbrella of the “sinicization” of religion, a program kicked off by the country’s supreme leader, Xi Jinping, in 2015. 

In September 2018, the Vatican and Beijing inked a still-secret agreement dealing with the appointment of bishops, ending several decades of attempting to reach a formal agreement. It gives the Pope the final approval of bishop nominations submitted by China.

The new charter rules come as concerns have emerged that the 2018 ban on minors entering churches or participating in Bible classes and other church activities is resulting in fewer young men participating in Mass. Along with other reasons such as increased materialism and China’s one-child policy, Catholics are concerned that the age ban will affect recruitment to the priesthood.

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