Provincial authorities in Zhejiang have confiscated the official seal of the local Christian Council, which is necessary to issue valid official documents, after the council released a statement earlier this month criticizing the government campaign to remove church crosses.
The July 10 letter, jointly signed by two official Church bodies in Zhejiang, demanded that the provincial government “stop immediately such ridiculous acts that split the party and the people.”
A dozen leaders of the provincial Catholic Patriotic Association and the Church Affairs Commission issued the report addressed to the provincial Ethnic and Religious Commission, underscoring the gravity of the situation and the leaders’ obligation to speak out.
In the report, the Church leaders described the cross removals as an “evil act that has to be stopped immediately” and that it had made Catholic priests and laity in Zhejiang “very angry.”
“The cross is a symbol of the Christian faith and some of the buildings are legally approved. It is unexplainable why it has to be forcibly removed,” an unnamed source told ucanews.
In May of this year, Chinese authorities inaugurated stricter rules regarding church architecture, forbidding the placement of the Christian symbol on top of buildings.
The new regulations stipulated that any crosses could be affixed to the façade of buildings but not above the roof, and that they could not measure more than one-tenth of the height of the façade. This provisions authorized officials to remove all rooftop crosses from churches.
The Christian Council’s protest, however, fell on deaf ears.
According to a Protestant preacher in Wenzhou who identified himself as “Luke,” soon after the letter was published, the Zhejiang Ethnic and Religious Affair Commission ordered that it be withdrawn, and when its demands weren’t met “It removed the council’s official seal,” he said.
The confiscation of the official seal is tantamount to removing some of the council’s authority, since it strips it of the capacity to issue documents.
The Council president, Rev. Joseph Gu of Chongyi Church, has reportedly also been punished with restrictions on his freedom.
Earlier this month, the cross demolition program was still in full swing, with authorities targeting Protestant Christian churches in the Zhejiang province, home to “China’s Jerusalem.”
On July 2, authorities sent a demolition team to pull down a cross on a church in Zhejiang’s Weiling county.
“The cross on our church was ripped down today, and so many of our church members were in floods of tears over it,” one church member said. “They were unable to speak reasonably with us, or say why they were taking down our cross.”
“They are officials, and we are just the people, and so we have no right to speak,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome