The Communist government of Shanghai has mandated that Catholic priests and nuns of the diocese undergo “reeducation” classes on the central theme of the National Congress of the Communist Party.
The Catholic Church has been a terrible embarrassment to Shanghai ever since a newly ordained bishop abruptly quit the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in 2012, snubbing the Communist party in allegiance to Rome. The new reeducation classes are part of an ongoing punishment of the Church in retaliation for the bishop’s act.
When a priest named Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained a bishop in 2012, the ruling Communist body decided to install him, one of its own officials, as auxiliary bishop in China’s largest Catholic diocese.
“The anticipation was he would be a yes man,” said Father Jim Mulroney, the editor of the Hong Kong-based Sunday Examiner.
Ma surpised everyone, however, by announcing before an immense crowd of Catholics and government officials at Saint Ignatius Cathedral, that it wouldn’t be “convenient” for him to remain in the Patriotic Association. People responded by bursting into spontaneous applause. Some wept openly.
The new bishop was immediately placed in detention, stripped of his title, interrogated by officials for weeks, and made to attend communist indoctrination classes.
Priests and nuns in Shanghai diocese have been required to attend learning classes ever since. Some 30 priests and a dozen nuns enrolled in this summer’s program held June 9-11 at the Shanghai Institute of Socialism. There will be another class in September for the rest of the priests and nuns of the diocese.
This year’s program focuses on the topic of rule of law as articulated by the Fourth Plenary Session of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party. The June course offered classes on the “rule of law and the development of the China Catholic Church” and “the current situation of the China Church and its mission.”
“It’s just a big joke to have such a theme. We have to ask what law leads to the indefinite detention of our bishop on no charges,” an unnamed participant told UCANews.
Since 1958 China’s Catholic Church has been split into underground and open communities, with the latter going by the title of the Patriotic Catholic Association and having direct ties to the Communist party. A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, noting that it had issued a proclamation saying the church “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”
In 1988, Pope Benedict XVI reached out to Catholics in China with an open letter, in which he praised their faithfulness, encouraged their perseverance, and laid out new guidelines for the life of the Church in China.
Earlier this year, Beijing baited the Vatican by announcing its intention to ordain Catholic bishops without the Pope’s approval. In January, the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) launched its work plan for 2015 that includes new ordinations without papal mandate. As recently as last November, Beijing had expressed a willingness to compromise on the ordination question, but seems to have withdrawn from that position.
According to UCANews, the Communist government under President Xi Jinping has tightened its grip on ethnic and religious groups it sees as possibly seditious, cracking down on people it sees as a political threat with extrajudicial detention.
China still runs legal “education classes” that Amnesty International identifies as “brainwashing centers.”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome