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BEIJING (ChurchMilitant.com) - As 2016 draws to a close, Chinese officials continue to claim Catholics in China are independent from the authority of the Pope.
After a meeting of the ninth National Congress of the Chinese Catholic Representatives on December 27–29, a statement reconfirmed the policy of the government-approved Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA) of adhering to "the principle of independence and self-governance" and "a system of national congresses [that] embodies the self-esteem and confidence of the Catholic Church in China," calling it "the foundation of the Church's existence."
Yu Zhengsheng, a Communist Party official, commented that Chinese Catholics should stay away from Rome and "run their Church independently and better integrate it into society." He went on to say, "The Church should adhere to the principles of self-administration, run religious affairs independently, and guide believers to adhere to the Sinicization path of the religion."
The CPCA is the only so-called Catholic organization with government approval. It, however, is not recognized by Rome as legitimate because it appoints bishops without permission from the Pope — a violation of Canon Law carrying the penalty of excommunication.
Relations between China and the Vatican have been strained since the Communist government took over in 1949 — an event that instituted vicious oppression of Catholics. In 1957, the Communist goverment insitituted the CPCA in an attempt to keep the increasing number of Catholics under government control.
In 1958, Pope Pius XII declared any bishops ordained as part of the CPCA validly consecrated but illicit because they were consecrated without papal permission, causing all bishops consecrated in those situations to be automatically excommunicated.
Since then, a so-called underground Church was established with bishops, priests, and laymen faithful to the Pope's authority in spiritual matters. Despite government persecution, however, the number of faithful Catholics in China is increasing daily.
In a further attempt to regulate the underground Church, China is attempting to force all priests to register with the CPCA or face penalties. Priests and bishops who have refused to obey the government have been put under house arrest, incarcerated in labor camps and tortured.
Earlier this year, relations between China and the Vatican seemed more amicable, and there were reports that Pope Francis could legitimize four, state-approved bishops. Recent numbers estimate over 100 million Christians in China — a higher number of people than members of the Communist Party.