China / Vatican: Rapprochement does not mean that there will be religious freedom

Decade-long dispute about to be settled (Press Release)

All religious communities in China are suffering from serious restrictions, and increasingly so under the leadership of Xi Jinping, Photo: UN Photos/Rick Bajornas

According to the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP), the rapprochement between the Chinese government and the Vatican – an attempt to settle the decade-long dispute over the right to appoint bishops – is no reason to hope for more religious freedom in China. “Of course, it makes sense to settle a dispute, but no false hopes should be raised that the Chinese might actually start to respect religious freedom. All religious communities in China are suffering from serious restrictions, and increasingly so under the leadership of Xi Jinping,” criticized Ulrich Delius, the STP’s Asia-consultant, in Göttingen on Friday. “If China’s Christians have to practice self-censorship in the future to live up to the demands of the Communist Party, the Church will lose its moral authority. However, this moral authority is what makes it so attractive for millions of Chinese people who are looking for stability and orientation.”

In an article for Hong Kong’s Catholic weekly newspaper, the “Sunday Examiner”, Cardinal John Tong Hon from Hong Kong stated that the dispute over the appointment of bishops had been resolved. This would be an important step towards normal relations between the two sides. China’s authorities and the Vatican have been arguing about the right to appoint bishops for decades, and the diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic and the Vatican have been interrupted since 1951.

Since Xi Jinping was appointment Secretary General of the Communist Party in 2012, the Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims in China have been suffering from severe persecution – and the situation has not been as bad since the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s,” Delius said. “Also, recognition by the state does not necessarily mean being protected from persecution.” In the coastal province of Zhejiang, the authorities had crosses removed from 1,500 officially registered and approved churches since 2014, and at least 37 houses of worship were demolished. “Clearly, Xi Jinping is not up for compromises regarding the policy of religious sinicization. This has nothing to do with the Chinese language and culture. The Communist Party propagates atheism to substantiate its absolute claim to power. Protestant house churches are destroyed, pastors are arrested and put on trial for contrived criminal offenses, and church visitors and priests are monitored with cameras. China’s authorities are relying on absolute control. With regard to attempts to ensure religious freedom, it would be unreasonable to trust the Chinese government’s promises.”

Header Photo: UN Photos/Rick Bajornas