BEIJING — Chinese authorities have offered a compensation to a Catholic community for the destruction of their church. The offer comes after parishioners barricaded themselves in the Church building overnight in protest of the demolition.
In an apparent concession to the protesters, government officials have agreed to provide a piece of land for the church to be rebuilt, as well as money to compensate for the destruction of the original building.
Catholics in Wu Gao Zhang, part of Hebei’s Guantao district, held an overnight vigil in their parish Oct. 31, after local authorities said the church would be destroyed because of an alleged lack of proper building permits. Local Catholics insist that the church was fully approved by the Chinese government, despite the dispute.
The parishioners were joined by priests from the Diocese of Handan. Several of the priests proceeded to help with negotiations between the Catholic community and government officials throughout the night.
After several hours of negotiations, the Chinese government agreed to provide land and compensation to rebuild the church somewhere else. Although the priests requested that the land be given immediately, prior to the demolition of the church building, it was not immediately clear that this happened.
The church was demolished as scheduled.
The church in Wu Gao Zhang was barely a year old and had been consecrated and opened on Aug. 15, 2018, the Solemnity of the Assumption. It had been built on farmland that the parishioners had purchased, as their old church had become too small for their growing congregation.
According to UCA News, a Catholic news organization based out of Bangkok, the new church building did not have a permit from China’s Religious Affairs Department to operate as a place of worship. This meant that it had to be torn down, even though verbal agreements to allow the construction of the church had been made by other bureaucratic offices.
Previously, UCA News also reported, many churches had been built with only verbal agreements without any difficulty from government authorities. A priest from the Diocese of Hanban who spoke to UCA News said that he believed that the Chinese government was determined to demolish the church building due to concerns that the diocese was growing too quickly.
“They dismantle churches without providing any official documents,” said the priest. “Instead, they simply verbally convey the wishes of the central government.”
During the initial protest in the church building, it was reported that Chinese officials claimed that “the Vatican was on our side” and would support them tearing down the churches.
For decades, the Church in China was split between the “Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association” (CPCA), a state-run church under the control of Chinese Communist Party, and the underground Church that was in full communion with the Holy See. The 2018 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 face increased persecution.
In the provinces of Jiangxi and Fujian in eastern China, priests who refused to sign agreements binding them to regulations of the government have been forced out of their homes, and their churches have been closed. The Chinese government has forbidden noncompliant priests from traveling, and many have been forced to go into hiding.
In July and August, at least five Catholic churches in the Yujiang Diocese were forcibly shut down by the government, due to their refusal to join the CPCA. In mid-August, government officials threatened to arrest an underground priest and revoke basic government subsidies to all Catholics in the city of Yingtan after their parish refused to join the state-sponsored church.