China’s decades-long campaign against religious freedom has made it the largest of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a Christian, and the Catholic Church is enabling the enemy.
Despite criticism by the United States State Department and human rights agencies, the Vatican is renewing a two-year-old deal with the Chinese Communist Party that offers the Chinese government a prominent role in appointing Catholic bishops in the country. Though the full details of this deal have not been fully disclosed, some have heralded the Pope-backed agreement as a win for Church diplomacy. The Holy See hasn’t had diplomatic relations with China since 1951, after all, and this deal admittedly keeps the line of communication open.
But the downsides to this relationship far outweigh the upsides. Almost any diplomatic agreement can be reached at the cost of one’s convictions.
China is one of the worst violators of religious freedom
I’ve had a front row seat to religious persecution in China over the last 7 years as the head of Open Doors USA, a nonprofit that works to empower persecuted Christians in more than 60 countries. The Chinese government is one of the world’s most notorious violators of religious freedom, and the situation has worsened since the Vatican first signed this agreement. The Church is tasked with caring for and protecting its 1.2 billion global members, but in China, it has betrayed the faithful.
The Chinese Communist Party has never taken kindly to religious minorities, which they consider to be potential threats to social order. Attending an unauthorized Christian church in China is illegal, and breaking this law carries stiff penalties including imprisonment. Churches are regularly raided by government officials, which forces the nearly 100 million Chinese Christians to choose between practicing their faith in secret or risking their lives and livelihoods to worship in public.
When the Vatican entered into negotiations with the Chinese government in 2018, many of us held hope that it could lead to real improvements for Christians there. But even the Vatican admits the results of their agreement “have not been particularly striking,” which seems to be a gross understatement considering the Chinese government’s pattern of behavior these last two years.
Since 2018, the government has imprisoned uncompliant priests and removed crosses from churches. Recently, the Chinese authorities egregiously edited the Bible to “reflect socialist values,” leaving a new generation of believers exposed to a version of the sacred text that has been filtered through an authoritarian lens. An educational curriculum written and distributed by government agencies even recast the Gospel of John to say that Christ claimed to be a sinner and was guilty of murder.
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SOURCE: USA Today, David Curry