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BEIJING (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a further blow to Pope Francis' secret Sino-Vatican concordat, China is enforcing new draconian laws compelling clergy to "practice the core values of communism" and promote the "sinicization of religion" — under threat of criminal sanctions.
The Measures for the Administration of Religious Clergy, issued by the Communist Party of China's (CCP) State Bureau of Religious Affairs (SBRA), came into force on May 1 — creating an "Orwellian system of surveillance" and tightening the noose on "the already strict control on all clergy."
The 52 articles under the measures cover the five approved religions of Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Taoism. However, the Catholic Church has been singled out for special sanctions on the issue of episcopal appointments.
Article 16 stipulates that "Catholic bishops shall be approved and ordained by the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China" (BCCCC) with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), and BCCCC shall file a record of the ordination within 20 days to the SBRA.
Former Taiwanese bishop Andrew Tsien explains the objectives of the CPCA are "to substitute it for the true Roman Catholic Church" and, in the long term "to eliminate religion in order to achieve a pure materialistic and autocratic society." The BCCC is the CCP-aligned episcopal organization.
The measure on Catholic bishops also requires "a copy of the bishop's household registration booklet and a copy of the resident ID card" and "a statement on the democratic election of the bishop issued by the Catholic organization of the province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the central government."
Article 16 also demands an "approval letter of the BCCCC and a statement on the ordination signed by the bishop presiding over the ordination." The "format of the record form for Catholic bishops is formulated by the SBRA."
The new measures do not mention the pope or the Vatican, even though the secret Sino-Vatican concordat signed Sept. 22, 2018, stipulates that the Vatican and CCP will "cooperate in the selection of bishops (who will be ultimately and formally appointed by the pope) of a united Catholic Church in China."
The measures are intended to create a national database of CCP-authorized clergy resulting in severe penalties against clerics of the underground Church — who are not registered but serve faithful Catholics as pastors.
"Once registered, the cleric enters an Orwellian world" where "loyalty to the CCP and love for the party is assessed periodically," with clerics receiving "rewards and punishments," in "a system similar to social credit," explains Bitter Winter, a human rights journal on China.
If punishment points exceed reward credits, the cleric loses his registration in the database and is liable for criminal prosecution.
Under the new laws, clergy will need to demonstrate "love for the motherland" and "support the leadership of the CCP, support the socialist system" as well as "practice the core values of socialism," adhering to the Chinese "principle of religious independence."
Clergy, the laws stipulate, can only serve "citizens who believe in religion." In that capacity, they are expected to "guide citizens who believe in religion to be patriotic and obey the law" and resist "illegal religious activities and religious extremism," plus resist "infiltration by foreign forces using religion."
Article 12 — requiring clergy to not be "subject to the domination of foreign forces, unauthorized acceptance of appointments by foreign religious groups or institutions, and other acts that violate the principle of religious independence and self-management" — is another slap in the face of the Vatican.
Hundreds of underground Catholic priests are refusing to register with the CCP database that requires them to submit to the dictates of the State-approved church.
On Friday, authorities in the northern Chinese Henan province arrested Vatican-appointed bishop Joseph Zhang Weizhu of Xinxiang diocese for allegedly violating the new measures.
The 63-year-old bishop's seven priests and 10 seminarians were arrested Thursday for using an abandoned factory building as a seminary. Several seminarians fled to escape the police dragnet and are now the targets of a manhunt.
The Vatican ordained Zhang secretly in 1991 after his appointment was rejected by the BCCCC and the CPCA. Despite Pope Francis' deal with China, communist authorities have not recognized Xinxiang diocese, comprised of 100,000 Catholics. The Vatican created the diocese in 1946.
On Sunday, Pope Francis asked the faithful throughout the world to accompany Chinese Catholics in prayer as they prepare to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Sheshan as she "is assiduously invoked by Christian families in the trials and hopes of daily life."
Francis has faced mounting criticism, even from his own left-wing supporters, for kowtowing to the CCP regime and refusing to condemn the persecution of Christians and Muslim Uyghurs in China.
Three years before the establishment of CPCA, Pope Pius XII published his encyclical Ad Sinarum Gentem (1954), warning that a "national" church, "no longer could be Catholic because it would be the negation of that universality or rather 'Catholicity' by which the society truly founded by Jesus Christ is above all nations and embraces them one and all."
President Trump's secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, also warned Pope Francis that "No regime suppresses faith on a larger scale than the Chinese Communist Party," and that a deal with the CCP risks endangering the Church's moral authority.
When Pope Francis renewed his deal with the CCP in September 2020, Catholic human rights activist Benedict Rogers warned that the Vatican was "getting even deeper in bed" with the communists, "at a time when much of the rest of the world is starting to wake up to the repression, mendacity and dangers of the Chinese Communist Party regime."
"Pope Francis is renewing an accord with Beijing that has yielded no benefits yet save for President Xi Jinping and only disunity and suffering for the Catholic Church," Rogers lamented.