Featured Image
Women pray in the underground church in China.

BEIJING, China, April 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Blocking the Holy See from controlling the selection of Catholic bishops in China is not a violation of religious freedom, a Chinese official said.

Beijing will not allow “foreign forces” to oversee the country's faith groups, said Chen Zongrong, an official that oversees religious affairs, because of an edict in the country’s constitution.

“I disagree with the view that preventing Rome from having full control over the selection of bishops hinders religious freedom,” Chen stated.

“The Chinese constitution clearly states that China's religious groups and religious affairs cannot be controlled by foreign forces,” he said, “and (these foreign forces) should not interfere in Chinese religious affairs in any way.”

Chen’s comments come as talks continue between the Vatican and China’s Communist government on an agreement regarding the Church’s standing in China that would feasibly cede control of choosing Catholic bishops to Beijing.

Experts in Asian affairs and many in the Church have criticized the impending deal, including China’s first Cardinal, Joseph Zen.

Zen blames Pope Francis’ advisers for what he calls “suicide” and an act of “shameless surrender” in referring to the deal.

Zen has said the Vatican “is selling out the Catholic Church in China​” and also “giving the blessing on the new … schismatic Church” created by the Communists. 

For years, China’s Communist regime has maintained state-sanctioned churches associated with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) and overseen by Beijing-appointed bishops while the Catholic Church has been forced to operate underground.

Many of the Catholic bishops appointed by the Vatican who are not recognized by China’s government have suffered government persecution.

Mindong Bishop Vincent Guo Xijin was detained in police custody overnight recently for refusing to concelebrate the Easter liturgies with an illegitimate and excommunicated bishop approved by the government.

Earlier last month, Msgr. Julius Jia Zhiguo, underground bishop of Zhengding (Hebei), “was taken away by the police,” according to Asia news, “to avoid, by pain of threat him commenting on the dialogue between China and the Vatican with foreign journalists in Beijing who were covering the National People’s Congress.”

Under the proposed agreement, the Vatican is expected to recognize seven Beijing-appointed bishops that were not chosen by the pope, the Associated Press reported, and two underground bishops would step aside.

Cardinal Zen has pointed out that while media attention has focused on the two cases of legitimate bishops being asked to step aside for two CPCA bishops who are excommunicated, no one is talking about the other five excommunicated bishops the Chinese government looks to impose onto the Church.

Among those five, Zen said, there are two of whom “everybody knows have wives and children.”

He further warned that a Vatican-Beijing deal would mean additional persecution for the Church’s existing bishops in China.

“What will happen to the 30 bishops in the underground?” Zen queried. “They will be brought into ‘the cage.’ That’s terrible!”  

“They are going to annihilate the underground Church,” stated Zen.

Chen denied that Bishop Guo — one of the Vatican-ordained bishops who was detained and who may have to relinquish his see for an illegitimate bishop — was deprived of freedom when government agents put him on a train to Xiamen, a city more than 160 miles from his Fujian province church, according to the AP report, saying he'd been invited there by a local bishop.

Priests and nuns in Guo's parish told the AP last week that it was typical for government authorities to make the bishop take a forced “vacation” during sensitive periods.

They said he’d likely been taken into custody this time to stop him from talking to media about the ongoing Beijing-Vatican talks.