Persecution of China’s Priesthood Persists

Living in the United States, every individual is allotted certain rights. One of these rights is the freedom to choose your own religion. However, not everyone is as fortunate of a people as the American people. China is currently a communist state governed by Xi Jinping. As history tells us about communist regimes, they tend to control all aspects of their citizens’ lives. This control unfortunately extends to religion. The Chinese government has persecuted numerous priests in China’s Catholic community over the last decades. These priests are persecuted because of their opposition to work directly under communist jurisdiction, denying to preach as the country’s politicians demand.
Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been the sole political function in power. It was in the same year of this party’s rise to power that the arresting of priests and lay people began. This arrest and jailing of practicing Catholics continues even up to this day. Occasionally, the government argues that they detain these Catholics to marginalize outside influences like the Vatican from the Chinese people. The way in which these arrests are executed is government workers are sent out to abduct the priest or lay person, taking him or her to government jails where they are often held indefinitely without a sentence or trial. How the government chooses its targets, however, is uncertain. It is safe to say, though, that the targets are often Catholics who are influential in their church communities and who like to worship “a little too loudly.”
Despite this constant trend of persecution, the number of Chinese Catholics has exponentially increase. Today, there are around 85 million Catholics in mainland China, with a seven percent annual growth rate. Why are the numbers rising despite this oppression? The number of faithful is flourishing due to the number of willing preachers and the number of available “house churches.” “House churches” is the term used to describe spaces designated for the worship and the celebration of the Catholic mass. While these “house churches” are often situated in the rooms of an average buildings, it is not unheard of for Catholic communities in particular to use cathedrals left behind from old European missionary days. Services in these “house churches” are led by Vatican-appointed priests and are usually held in secret. However, this secrecy has not stopped the government from finding the communities. Recently, there has been a series of government-led demolitions of these “house churches,” despite fervent protests from the Catholic side.
A particular continuous threat to the Catholic communities in China has been the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. This Patriotic Association was created by the CCP party back in 1957 in order to exercise state supervision over China’s Catholic community. This Patriotic Association essentially mimics the Catholic Church except that it is not under the jurisdiction of the Vatican and that it is the government officials who appoint the church’s “priests” to administer services. Oftentimes, abducted Catholic priests are given the option of serving for this Patriotic Association in return for a shorter sentence. Until Pope Benedict XIV’s papacy, a priest’s acceptance of this offer would have resulted in his excommunication from the Church. This is no longer the case. Though there are not exact numbers on how many priests have actually accepted this deal, there have been reported to be quite a few. Nonetheless, the Patriotic Association has done their fair share to suppress the growth of the Catholic communities in their midst.
In the end, the persecution of Chinese priests and lay people in continues. There is yet to be a pontiff to visit mainland China and speak on this issue of persecution directly to the Chinese government. Pope Francis says he plans on visiting the region in the near future, but no arrangements have been set in stone yet. However, when a pontiff does visit China, can we really expect change?