Gov’t-Approved Chinese Bishop Insists State Is Above Religion

In this July 30, 2015 photo, parishioners of Lower Dafei Catholic Church hold an impromptu prayer vigil as they wait for Chinese police, security guards, and government workers to arrive and cut down their church's cross in Lower Dafei Village in Yongjia County in eastern China's Zhejiang Province. A massive …
Mark Schiefelbein/AP Photo

ROME — Chinese Bishop John Fang Xingyao, president of the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association, said last week that allegiance to the nation must always predominate over allegiance to God.

“Love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above Canon law,” said Fang, who is the bishop of Linyi (Shandong), at a November 26 meeting of the Political Consultative Conference on Religions (CPPCCP) in Beijing.

The meeting was chaired by CPPCCP president Wang Yang, a member of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, and attended by academics, religious figures, and political advisers.

The meeting sought to continue developing “a religious ideological system with Chinese characteristics in line with the demands of the times,” which responds to President Xi Jinping’s “Sinicization” program, according to which all religious belief and practice must be brought into alignment with the principles of the Communist Party.

Last summer, the Vatican published a document bearing the title “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China” regarding Catholic priests enlisting in the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which does not recognize the authority of Rome.

The document — bearing the signature of  “The Holy See” — offered Chinese clergy the opportunity to register with the CPA in good conscience as long as they specify that they are acting without failing in their duty “to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

While insisting it “understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions,” the Vatican statement puts pressure on all priests to enlist in the CPA, since they can no longer say that the Church forbids them from doing so.

Bishop Fang’s assertion that that loyal citizenship must take priority over Christian faith was not the first such statement from prelates of the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Last year, a different Bishop Fang — Bishop Peter Fang Jianping of Tangshan — said that Catholics should give their ultimate allegiance to President Xi Jinping “because we, as citizens of the country, should first be a citizen and then have religion and beliefs.”

Fang was ordained a bishop without Vatican approval in 2000 and later rehabilitated by the Holy See. He is also a member of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament that voted last year to eliminate presidential term limits.

Asked about church-state relations, the bishop justified his subordination of the faith to political powers by citing Jesus’ injunction to render to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Some 12 million Catholics are believed to currently be living in China, split roughly 50-50 between the Catholic Patriotic Association and the illegal “underground Church” of those faithful to Rome.

The former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has been highly critical of the Vatican’s rapprochement with Beijing and what he sees as its betrayal of the persecuted underground Church.

“The next time I see the pope, I’m going to tell him ‘you are encouraging a schism. You are legitimizing the schismatic church in China,’” Zen said in an interview earlier this week.

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