Beijing, China | A Chinese bishop has said that Catholics in the country must put their loyalty to the state before the faith. Bishop John Fang Xingyao made the statement during a Communist Party sponsored meeting in Beijing last week held to discuss concerning religion in China.
“Love for the homeland must be greater than the love for the Church and the law of the country is above canon law,” said Bishop Fang said Nov. 26 at the Political Consultative Conference on Religions according to reports from Asia News.
Bishop Fang is the head of the Diocese of Linyi, on the east coast of China in the province of Shandong.
In addition to serving as the bishop of Linyi, Fang is also president of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, the state-sponsored Catholic group which existed in schism with Rome until the conclusion of the controversial Vatican-China agreement struck last year. That agreement gave communist officials a say in the appointment of Catholic bishops and the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice.
Fang also serves as vice-president of the Council of Chinese Bishops and sits on the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCCP). Fang was first appointed a bishop by the Chinese government in 1994.
For decades, the Church in China was split between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and the underground Church that was in full communion with the Holy See. The 2018 Vatican-China agreement, the details of which have not been released, was intended to unify the two ecclesiastical communities, although multiple reports out of China have indicated that priests and laity who refuse to worship at government-run churches are have faced increased persecution.
President Xi has embarked upon a comprehensive campaign to bring religion in China under the control of the Communist Party. In 2016, he gave a speech at the National Religious Work Conference, where he explained his demand for the “sinacization” of religion, or the effort to make religion conform with Chinese culture and the Chinese Communist Party line.
In the provinces of Jiangxi and Fujian in eastern China, priests who refused to sign agreements binding them to regulations government have been forced out of their homes, and their churches have been closed. The Chinese government has forbidden non-compliant priests from traveling, and many have been forced to go into hiding.
Under the Chinese “Regulations on Religious Affairs” that were implemented beginning in February of 2018, “unauthorized” religious teachings have been effectively banned in China.
Religious freedom advocates in the U.S. have warned that, due to “sinacization,” persecution of religious minorities and unregistered churches is worse than ever.
Religious persecution in China have steadily escalated in recent months and years. Earlier this year, churches belonging to the country’s state-run “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” Protestant denomination were ordered to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with lists of sayings of President Xi.
Since 2013, crosses have been removed from an estimated 1,500 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, as a part of an effort to “Sinicize” Christianity. New restrictions were put in place by the Chinese government in February 2018, making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to enter a church building.
Last month, Chinese authorities demolished a Catholic Church after they claimed the building lacked proper permits. During protests by Catholics at the church, it was reported that Chinese officials claimed that “the Vatican was on our side” and would support them tearing down the churches.