I’ve spoken at length about my issues with China and have briefly discussed China’s disgusting One Child Policy or as I like to think of it China’s Forced Contraception/ Pro-Abortion Stance. But for now I’d like to discuss, another of Chinese human rights abuses: freedom of religious expression.
China is a communist country. During the cultural revolution, all religion was considered “counter-revolutionary” and many people of a variety of faiths were arrested. People were beaten and sent to years of heavy labor. Some priests, religious, and lay (Fr. Beda Chang for example) were even martyred.
Today, the official Chinese Catholic Church does not follow the Pope exclusively. That’s right; you read correctly. It’s a church controlled by the state. Basically, in order to be a practicing Catholic you must register with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). They approve everything that’s going on in the Catholic Church in China. The Pope is the “Spiritual” head of the Chinese Catholic Church, but is not the authoritative head.
Similarly, China has certain regions where the biggest religion, Buddhism, is allowed to practice. These areas are the “special” regions: Macau and Hong Kong and also Tibet, which is a rich culture grounded in Buddhism. One of my classmates, who was Catholic, was from Macau. Macau up until 1999 was a Portuguese colony, hence the strong prevalence of Catholicism. Why does China allow these “special” circumstances? Some speculate that it is because if the government took all religion out of the country, many Chinese would have a big problem with that.
However, the Chinese government is particular about religion. One religion/spiritual group called Falun Gong started in 1992 began peaceful protests against the unfair media treatment. Because the protests were not approved (yes, you have to have approval to protest in China), the religion was banned in 1999. Since then practitioners have been rounded up, sent to jail, or beaten severely.
All is not bad, one blogger responded to Conversion Diary’s questions about Catholicism in other countries. He/she had this to say, “The government has been loosening up and even encouraging traditional Chinese beliefs. When I moved here, Qing Ming (tomb sweeping day) was not a legal holiday. Now it is, and most people get three days in a row vacation for this holiday. Same with Mid-Autumn (Dragon Boat) Festival. There are also many educated people getting more interested in understanding the nature of belief. One friend of mine has been growing in her Buddhist devotion. She and her daughter even attended a Buddhist Camp over the New Year Holiday. She asks me questions about Christianity, even reads my Chinese-English Bible when she comes to my house, but she is getting more strongly attached to Buddhism. Christianity is definitely also growing here as well.”
In a similar vein, the Chinese government does talk to Rome behind the scenes when it comes to ordination. However, the Vatican does not recognize the CPCA. In some cases, if a bishop has not been approved by the Vatican but only the CPCA, the Vatican will excommunicate that person. This has caused a number of issues. China has basically said that the Pope has no authority to approve the appointment of bishops because Rome is a foreign entity.
Many faithful Catholics have taken the church underground. Several Catholic refuse to register with the CPCA. The Vatican has somewhat encouraged this, but most recently Pope Benedict issued a letter urging Catholics to accept the state-sponsored association as long as it follows church teachings. I also note that he said that no Catholic is a foreigner in their own church. :) He also spoke of making a universal day of prayer for the Chinese Catholic Church on May 24 (mark your calendars).
My biggest concern for the Chinese Catholic Church is that if Rome executes the fullest extent of it’s authority against the state, the state will ban the Church there altogether. This could lead to beatings and arrests that the practitioners of Falun Gong experience. I think this is why the Pope treads lightly. My other big concern is, judging from the news media, many Chinese Catholics are perfectly fine with the state being the authoritative head of the Catholic Church. They feel that as long as they get to practice their faith, then alls well. Thus the Chinese Catholic people are undermining the authority of the Pope and I’m sure the government is totally happy about that. And finally, this leads to a split in the Chinese Catholic Church between those who are fine with state control and those who understand that this is not what Jesus intended when he set up his church. So when China (and I’m not going to say if) implodes or evolves into a democratic nation, these two “warring” factions will have to reconcile. This I think, judging from his letter, is also a concern of the Pope’s.
My other concern is what will happen to Hong Kong and Macau when they loose their "special administrative region" status in 2049. That seems a long time from now, and hopefully China will have evolved past their problems with religious liberties. But what if that doesn't happen? These regions and pockets of Catholicism will receive the same hardships the rest of China is currently experiencing. Will those citizens rise up? Or will they too cave under the pressures of the communist party?
It suffices to say that if you are a Catholic in China, you have two choices: go-underground or register with the government. So add that to my long list of reasons why I don’t buy Chinese products.
New York Times Article: A Faith Split Between Two Authorities Dec 23, 2010
InsideCatholic: Outlaw-One Priest in the the Underground Church reprint from Dec 2005
Rome Reports: Dec 17, 2010 newspiece
Rome Reports: Pope calls on religious freedom for Chinese Catholics Dec 1, 2010