FUJIAN PROVINCE, China (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics in China who refuse to be controlled by the state are continuing to be harassed by communist authorities and subjected to indoctrination to make them join the so-called patriotic church.
New pictures and video show Catholics of the underground Church praying outside churches closed by the government in the diocese of Mindong, China.
The magazine Bitter Winter published photos showing Chinese Catholics praying in the dark outside shuttered churches. Outside one building in Saiqi, a town in Fujian province, parishioners gathered to pray and read the Bible, holding flashlights in the cold wind. Reportedly, the people have refused to accept a priest sent by the government.
The magazine also published photos of documentation issued by local authorities alleging the churches have been closed "for fire-safety reasons."
Bitter Winter also reported that more than 10 churches in the diocese were closed by Jan. 16, in an area that remains heavily loyal to the underground Catholic Church. Surveillance cameras have been installed outside many churches. Of an estimated 90,000 Catholics and 69 priests in the Mindong diocese, the vast majority are affiliated with the underground Church.
"The government is cunning. Fearing that it will be criticized by the international community again, it disguised the persecution as the demolition of an illegal building so that nobody would associate it with its religious persecution campaigns," a Catholic from Fu'an, a city in the province, said.
According to a government insider in the central province of Henan, across China local governments employ a so-called five-on-one control system.
Catholic conscientious objectors are pressured by the United Front Work Department, Public Security Bureau, Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, the township government, and village committee, each of which assigns a person to re-educate the objectors. They also harass priests working to transform them to the communist way of thinking and closely surveil them.
The China-Vatican agreement of 2018 was intended to bring the state-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) into communion with Rome and unify the Church in China. Indications are persecution of the underground Church has intensified since the agreement was signed.
The contents of the agreement have not been made public and have been the source of much criticism.
Steven Mosher, an American social scientist and China expert, said it is "a betrayal of the Catholic Church in China" on several levels:
It betrays the authority of the papacy by giving the Chinese Communist Party the right to name bishops. It betrays the underground Church in China, a Church which not only has survived decades of persecution at the hands of the authorities but is now, once again, under siege. And — I would argue — because it is a secret agreement, it betrays the truth by allowing both sides to misrepresent it.
Stating "Darkness always hates the light," Mosher points out that "a secret agreement keeps Catholics in China and around the world in the dark about whatever compromises the Vatican has made. Even worse, it also allows the communist authorities to misrepresent the agreement to the Chinese faithful in whichever way they choose."
Cardinal Joseph Zen has called the Vatican-China deal "suicide" for the Catholic Church in China.
The Vatican has remained silent on the persecution of Catholics in China's underground Church.
Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, dean of the College of Cardinals, recently tried to justify the Vatican-China agreement by saying it represented "a continuity" between Francis' approach to China with that of his recent predecessors, Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI: "In their approach to the situation of the Catholic Church in China, there is a profound symphony of the thought and action of the last three pontificates, which out of respect for the truth have favored dialogue between the two parties, not opposition."