BEIJING, China — Chinese officials have evicted members of the clergy, including a bishop, from their homes and are closing Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fujian. While the officials cited “fire safety standards” as the reason for the evictions, all the clergy and churches affected have refused to join the Communist-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association.
The CPCA, the state-run Catholic Church, entered into an agreement with the Vatican in 2018, regularizing the status of its bishops. While the terms of the agreement have not been released, it has widely been reported that it gives the Communist party effective veto power over future episcopal appointments.
The deal was intended to regularize the status of the so-called underground Church in China, which had always been in communion with Rome, despite decades of persecution by the Communist government. While the Vatican has said that underground clergy are not obliged to join the CPCA, government authorities have escalated policies and enforcement actions aimed at bringing all religious practice under Communist control.
According to a Jan. 16 report by AsiaNews, Bishop Vincenzo Guo Xijin, auxiliary bishop of Fujian has been evicted from the curia and clergy house and is now homeless.
The priests who lived in the house were also evicted, reportedly due to “security reasons” and noncompliance with fire regulations.
Chinese government officials reportedly cut electricity and water supply to the chancery building in an effort to encourage the clergy to leave the building. The building, which is 10 years old, was built in compliance with all relevant permits.
Bishop Guo and his priests have refused to join the state-run Church, and thus have not been approved by the Chinese government.
Bishop Guo was the Vatican-recognized bishop of the underground Diocese of Mindong until the conclusion of the recent Vatican-China deal. Following that agreement, which gave communist officials the right to enforce “sinicization” on local Catholic practice, the Holy See recognized the communist-approved Bishop Zhan, who had previously been considered an excommunicated schismatic, as the diocesan bishop, and compelled Bishop Guo to accept the position of auxiliary bishop in his diocese.
AsiaNews also reported Thursday that “at least five” parishes in the Diocese of Fuijan have been closed due to “fire safety standards” despite prior compliance with permits and regulations. One of these parishes has 10,000 communicants, and another has roughly 3,000.
The priest of these now-shuttered parishes, who have all refused to join the CPCA, are now homeless.
On January 13, the Chinese government closed a retirement home administered by the Little Sisters of Mercy and Charity. The home, which housed 30 people, has been open for 20 years and had operated without major issues. Now, some of the residents do not have anywhere to live, and others have gone to live with relatives.
In the city of Suanfeng, a parish that was closed for “fire safety” reasons was re-opened after a CPCA priest was appointed to the parish. There were no repairs made to the building to bring it up to any sort of code during the time it was closed, says AsiaNews.
A little less than half of the “underground” priests--20 out of 57--from the Diocese of Fujian have declined to join the CPCA, despite urging from Bishop Zhan. The priests are reluctant to sign on with the CPCA as they do not wish to be affiliated with an entity of the Chinese Communist Party.
In June, the Vatican issued “pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China.” While recognizing the need to continue efforts to normalize relations between the Catholic community and government authorities, the document “respects the choice” of priests who refuse to register with the state.
“For some time, requests have been received by the Holy See from Bishops in mainland China for a concrete indication of the approach to be adopted in relation to the obligation of presenting an application for civil registration,” the document says, noting that “many pastors remain deeply disturbed [at] the modality of such registration.”
The Holy See also noted that the act of registration “requires, almost invariably, the signing of a document in which, notwithstanding the commitment assumed by the Chinese authorities to respect also Catholic doctrine, one must declare acceptance, among other things, of the principle of independence, autonomy and self-administration of the Church in China.”
If, the Vatican said, “the text of the declaration required for the registration does not appear respectful of the Catholic faith,” priests should specify - in writing if possible, or else in front of witnesses – that the declaration is made only to the extent it is “faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”
“At the same time, the Holy See understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions.”
Bishop Guo has previously been arrested for refusing to participate in public events with Zhan. In February, Guo told the New York Times that “we must obey Rome's decision,” and that “our principle is that the Chinese Catholic Church must have a connection with the Vatican; the connection cannot be severed.”