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Catholic shrine in Tianjin, ChinaShutterstock

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February 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — With almost every day that passes, there are new revelations about human rights abuses by the Communist-run People’s Republic of China. Those of a sensitive disposition are not advised to listen to this BBC report on the systematic rape of Uighur girls. It is just the latest news from a particular region of China, where the majority population is distinct ethnically, culturally and religiously from the Han Chinese who dominate China.

The Uighurs, who are Muslim, have received no detectable public defense from the Islamic world, which seems more concerned with doing deals with the Chinese government. They are not alone. Governments and especially universities around the world have been silenced by China’s policy of buying influence. A committee of the U.K.’s House of Commons recently declared, after taking evidence on the problem:

There is clear evidence that autocracies are seeking to shape the research agenda or curricula of UK universities, as well as limit the activities of researchers on university campuses. Not enough is being done to protect academic freedom from financial, political and diplomatic pressure.

Uighurs are not the only victims of Chinese policy who are being ignored. The new security law in Hong Kong is another topic they would prefer us not to discuss. The forcible transfer of populations from their ancestral villages to modern housing in cities is cultural vandalism as well as an abuse of human rights.

And then there is the persecution of the Church.

It is tempting to assume that at least part of the reason for the persecution of the Uighurs is their religion, in the context of a revival of militant Islam in other countries. There is little evidence of Islamic extremism among the Uighurs, however, and the suspicion of any ideology not directly controlled by the Communist Party also applies to Buddhists, practitioners of Falun Gong, and all varieties of Christianity, all of whom are currently feeling the heat of persecution.

It used to be said that the Chinese communists were concerned about “foreign influence” over religious groups in China, and that the role of the papacy for Catholics caused them particular difficulties. This argument no longer makes sense, however. Not only are Protestant house-churches being systematically destroyed, but the official, state-aligned “Catholic Patriotic Catholic Association” (CPCA) and the Protestant equivalent are also finding the going extremely tough.

Thus the CPCA is actually an arm of the state, but it is still not allowed to appoint the bishops it needs for its dioceses: about half are vacant at any given time, and many have been for decades. Again, the CPCA is not allowed to establish the places of worship they need to serve the population, so recourse to “unregistered” churches is simply a necessity for many Catholics in China.

Even when officially registered churches can be established, they can be vandalized by officials and their crosses torn down, and sometimes actually demolished for any or no reason. We even read of officials periodically demanding that religious images be replaced by portraits of the president, and hymns with songs in his honor.

These are not the actions of a state concerned about foreign influence, or religious fanaticism. These are actions motivated by the official ideology of the Communist Party of China, that belief in God is itself an intolerable subversive act.

This is the government with which the Vatican has signed a secret deal, and under whose terms the Holy See has systematically dismantled the “underground” Catholic hierarchy, which had maintained its loyalty to Rome ever since the Communist takeover in 1948. The Vatican has been handing loyal bishops and priests over to the control of the state, insisting bishops submit to “patriotic” bishops as their deputies, for example. It is painfully clear that the negotiation and implementation of this agreement has taken place during a period in which the persecution of the Church in China has become markedly worse.

Only a few years ago, I myself thought that some progress might be possible. There was talk about how the Chinese were becoming concerned about consumerism replacing traditional values, and allowing traditional Chinese temples to be rebuilt, and collaborating with Christian charities. On November 1, 2014, The Economist noted:

In recent years the [Chinese Communist] party’s concerns have shifted from people’s beliefs to the maintenance of stability and the party’s monopoly of power. If working with churches helps achieve these aims, it will do so, even though it still frets about encouraging an alternative source of authority.

It is impossible to know exactly what is going on in a totalitarian dictatorship, but it is obvious that the current Chinese leadership is not taking that view now. It is time for the Pope not only to recognize the carnage going on among the Uighurs, but the persecution of his own flock. In practice he should recognize that they may be safer and better-served “underground” than above ground.

As one Catholic deacon is reported as saying: “The government is even more confident in controlling registered churches. Had we known this beforehand, we would not have joined the [CPCA].”

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and is the editor of The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and nine children.