China Pressures Catholic Bishop to Join State-Run Church

Pope Francis has sought to improve relations with China since he took office in 2013, but previous attempts foundered over Beijing's insistence that the Vatican give up recognition of Taiwan
AFP Tiziana FABI

Officials of China’s ruling communist government have refused to recognize underground Catholic Bishop Guo Xijin unless he enrolls in the country’s parallel, state-run church.

“The government officials said in clarity that they do not recognize me as a bishop,” Bishop Guo told UCA News this week, which means he probably won’t be able to participate in Holy Week services prior to Easter, Christianity’s most solemn feast.

Authorities told the bishop he has to enlist in the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC) and its church affairs committee if he wishes to be recognized by the government. He also must declare his belief in a catholic church outside of the auspices of Rome, something he said he has no intention of doing.

I have to join the BCCCC “after declaring my acceptance of the policy of ‘an independent, autonomous and self-run church,’” the 59-year-old bishop said, since officials doubt his absolute allegiance to the state and its authority in religious matters.

“They said: ‘You are not sincere enough and therefore we cannot recognize your identity,’” Guo said.

To be able to operate legally, all priests must register with and support the state-approved Patriotic Catholic Association (PCA), and the government has recently sweetened the deal by offering an award of 200,000 yuan (26,000 euros) to any priest who takes this step.

Despite last fall’s agreement between the Vatican and China’s communist government over the appointment of bishops, China is showing no desire to relinquish its absolute control over religious practice in the officially atheist country, and some high-ranking Church officials have labeled the deal a “betrayal” of Chinese Catholics.

Last September, Pope Francis asked Guo, the former bishop of Mindong, to step aside from his post to make room for an illicitly ordained but state-approved bishop to take his place, in a move designed to placate communist officials.

“When Bishop Guo smoothes out his relations with the government, there will be no problem,” said Zhan Silu, the bishop who has taken Guo’s place.

In 2017, state security forces arrested Bishop Guo just days before Holy Week and he was only released after 20 days of “brainwashing” classes, UCA News reported.

“No one is sure about anything which happens in China. We can only make a small step forward when there is a tiny space available,” Bishop Guo said.

“We are not very optimistic but when we fix our eyes on God, we will find no problem. Whatever God allows, it would have been the best that happens,” he said.

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