By now it is clear to everyone — even Vatican diplomats, presumably — that things are going from bad to worse for Catholics in China. The secret Sino-Vatican agreement that was supposed to provide some protection for the Catholic Church in China has instead been turned on its head. It is perversely being used by the Communist authorities to crush the long-suffering but faithful Underground Catholic Church while the Vatican stands silently by.
The Communist authorities are telling Underground bishops, priests, and laity that the new agreement not only requires them to register with the government, but to join the so-called “Catholic Patriotic Association.” This nearly all of them refuse to do, since they know that the Patriotic Association is not in communion with Rome.
As punishment, the Communists have begun arresting resisters and demolishing their churches and shrines. The Underground Diocese of Fengxiang, Shaanxi province, has been particularly hard hit. On April 4, 2019, a newly built church in the diocese, still under construction, was destroyed as parishioners looked on in horror.
But even churches and shrines that have stood for centuries are being reduced to rubble. Last October, shortly after the signing of the Sino-Vatican agreement, the beautiful shrine of Our Lady of the Mountain, located in Yunnan province, was razed to the ground.
The Vatican seems to be turning a blind eye to the pressure on bishops and priests to join the schismatic Catholic Patriotic Association, perhaps on the grounds that it may provide a safe haven for Catholics in China, but in this, it is mistaken. Being a “Patriotic” bishop does not provide automatic immunity from persecution. Nor does being a “Patriotic” parish necessarily protect the parish church from the wrecking ball.
Take the Qianwang Catholic Church in Jinan City, Shandong province, for example, which dates from 1750. Despite being an approved parish in a diocese run by a “Patriotic” bishop, the church was demolished last August. The Blessed Mother’s severed head gazes forlornly on the rubble that is all that remains.
As LifeSiteNews has reported, another Catholic shrine in Fengxiang, China, is currently slated for destruction. The Marian shrine at Mujiaping was temporarily saved from demolition when local Catholics formed a human wall on the steps leading up to it.
The authorities will not be deterred, however, and they have assembled a small army of some 600 hundred police and officials. We must pray that no lives are lost when this heavily armed force storms the shrine to do its destructive work.
In the face of such ongoing persecution and destruction, the silence from the proponents of the agreement that was signed last September has been deafening. Cardinal Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, who by all accounts is the author of the accord, continues to counsel patience.
As Parolin told journalists on April 3: “We signed this agreement to help advance religious freedom, to find normalization for the Catholic community there, and then for all other religions to have space and a role to play in society which is recognized.”
Yet, judging by the benchmarks that he himself set, the agreement has failed to deliver. In the eight months since its signing, the agreement has been used by Beijing as an excuse to limit — not expand — the religious freedom of Catholics in China. If anything, the authorities have intensified their efforts restrict all the activities of all religions, and seem intent upon driving them out of the public life altogether.
It would be unfair to blame the Vatican’s deal with China for all of these setbacks, since the current wave of persecution predates its signing. Not only that, but it affects religious believers of all stripes: Buddhists, Muslims, and Taoists along with Catholics and other Christians.
The Communist Party imposed harsh new restrictions on all religions in February 2018. The new regulations require that all religious activities be held in state-approved locations. Any religious activity held elsewhere, such as a Catholic summer camps or Bible studies in private homes, are “illegal gatherings,” the new regulations declare, strictly punishable by law.
The new regulations also strictly forbade minors from attending Mass, receiving catechism instruction, or engaging in any other religious activity. All priests, pastors, and religious are required to register with the relevant official body. Catholic priests who refuse to join the Catholic Patriotic Association are be forced to leave active ministry.
I know that Vatican officials were aware of the new restrictions on religious activity; I briefed them myself last May.
The Vatican’s deal with China did not cause this new wave of persecution. But it was so spectacularly mistimed that it may have made things worse, as the U.S. ambassador at large for religious freedom, Sam Brownback, recently suggested. “A religious group should be allowed to pick its own leaders, period,” Brownback, who is a practicing Roman Catholic, said. “And now you have the Chinese government inserting itself in this.”
This is just the beginning. Communist Leader Xi Jinping, like Chairman Mao Zedong before him, seems determined to extinguish all religious faith within his country, replacing it with faith in the Chinese Communist Party and its leader, who happens to be Xi himself.
When Catholics recently questioned why they were being forced to study the works of Xi Jinping, an official bluntly told them, “It is because you believe in God that you are required to study and answer the questions. This is to change your thinking.” The official added that because they thanked God instead of the Party, they needed to “study Xi” more.
The goal is to brainwash everyone into believing only in Communist leader Xi and his party, rejecting God and His Church.
Communism has always been a total ideology, one that seeks to control not only the acts and words of those under its power, but their very thoughts as well. Those who refuse to submit are enemies of the revolution — counter-revolutionaries — who must be identified, targeted, and destroyed. This is a political system that feeds off of the destruction of an endless series of “enemies,” real and imagined.
Catholics and other believers are now in the cross-hairs. After all, what better target for an officially atheistic party than religion? And among religious believers, who are more suspect than Chinese Catholics, the very headquarters of whose church is located in a foreign country?
Driving a wedge between Chinese Catholics and the Universal Church is only the beginning, I fear. This so-called “sinicization” may only be a prelude to increasing persecution, if not outright annihilation.
Perhaps it is time for the Holy Father to entrust China to the Virgin Mary, as Queen of Peace, through her Immaculate Heart. In the meantime, let’s us all pray for our suffering co-religionists in China.
Steven W. Mosher is the president of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s “Dream” is the New Threat to World Order.