BEIJING — Priests and parishioners have barricaded themselves in a Catholic church in the Chinese province of Hebei. According to reports, the Catholics are attempting to prevent the Chinese government from tearing down the church. 

The protest began at 6am Thursday morning at the church in Wu Gao Zhang, part of the Guantao district of Hebei, on the coast of northern China. Officials have ordered that the church be destroyed even though it is fully recognized and approved by the government. According to the website AsiaNews, local authorities have said the building lacks appropriate permits. 

In September 2017, China enacted strict new regulations concerning religion. Since then, authorities have been vigilant in enforcing permitting requirements. Churches that are not found to be in compliance are destroyed. 

According to AsiaNews, many Chinese Catholics say that last September’s “Sino-Vatican Agreement” has served to embolden the government to take punitive action against Catholics who did not belong to state-approved churches.

Officials have reportedly claimed that “the Vatican supports us” and have ordered an additional 40 churches be destroyed.  

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 have faced 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 non-compliant 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. 

“The government places spies in CPCA churches to specially monitor what priests say in their sermons and what activities they hold,” a priest from Yujiang reported to the magazine Bitter Winter. The Chinese government monitors the everyday activity of CPCA priests, including their travel. 

“Basically, the state knows everything about the priests,” he added.

Chinese persecution of religious minorities has been the focus of sustained international scrutiny. The country is estimated to have imprisoned millions of Uighur Muslims, and leading human-rights groups have reported to the United Nation that political dissidents and imprisoned religious minorities have been subjected to organ harvesting for use in the country’s organ trade. 

In September, reports emerged that churches belonging to the Chinese state-run “Three-Self Patriotic Movement” Protestant denomination have been ordered to replace displays of the Ten Commandments with sayings of Chinese President Xi Xinping.

The directive reportedly came after Three-Self churches were initially told to remove the First Commandment, “You shall have no gods before me,” as Jinping disagreed with it. 

Reports indicate that those who have refused to remove any or all of the Ten Commandments have been imprisoned, with leaders and worshippers harassed, even in churches that complied with the instruction.