China: Bishop Threatens to Suspend Priests Who Do Not Register

August 04, 2022
Baoding Diocese Cathedral, Hebei

In Hebei, the “official” bishop published a pastoral letter where he claims to have concelebrated recently with 30 priests who were previously “underground,” and used the Directives published by the Vatican in 2019 to compel them to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

The Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association is in fact an offshoot of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which brings together the clergy who have agreed to pledge allegiance to the government. It is schismatic in essence. A common name for this clergy is the “official” Church, as opposed to the “clandestine” or “underground” Church, whose clergy remained loyal to Rome.

In September 2018, an agreement was signed between the Vatican and the Chinese government, regarding the appointment of bishops. It was valid for two years. The terms of this agreement, renewed in 2020 for two more years, have still not been revealed.

On June 28, 2019, the Holy See published “Pastoral Guidelines on the Civil Registration of Clergy in China,” which allowed membership in the Patriotic Association, without imposing it, and specified certain limits which should not be crossed. These Directives were received to varying degrees, but many priests and bishops opposed them. (See articles at bottom of page.)

On July 15, 2022, the Official Bishop of Baoding, Mage. Francis An Shuxin, issued a “Pastoral Letter on Civil Registration of Clergy in the Baoding Diocese.” He reports that more than 30 priests have concelebrated with him in recent months.

He explains that he used the 2018 Sino-Vatican agreement, the aforementioned Pastoral Guidelines, as well as other papal pronouncements to encourage all clergy to officially register and all faithful in the diocese to accept registered clergy, in such a way as to promote the unity of the diocese.

He also threatened priests who refuse to register with being barred from conferring the sacraments – which is contrary to the text of the Directives – and pointed out that the special privileges granted by the Holy See in June 1978 to unregistered clergy had been abolished. He warned that civil authorities would deal with violators in accordance with law and regulations.

The Directives have therefore become a formidable weapon in the hands of government authorities, particularly in the Hebei region, to undertake a “forced transformation” of the underground clergy. A Chinese commentator writes:

“In addition to the complete restriction of the personal freedom (supervision and imprisonment) of the clandestine clergy, and the physical and mental pressures operated by the authorities, another important means has been the use of the Pastoral Directives of the Holy See. This document has become the most powerful weapon to ‘transform’ the underground clergy.”

The instrumentalization of the Pastoral Guidelines provoked many reactions. Some have analyzed and refuted them from a theological and pastoral angle, pointing out its ambiguity and its ignorance of the praxis of the Chinese authorities. Others have tried to clarify them, but have emphasized they way they have been abused by the Chinese authorities, with the assistance of an official bishop.

Thus, the priests of Baoding, known for decades for their loyalty, signed, after only two or three months, what they previously considered “contrary” to their faith and celebrated with Bishop An, who had already joined the Patriotic Association. The power of this weapon is such that even the faithful Baoding Church has collapsed en masse.

Many priests had never seen this document before and when the government authorities read it to them, they signed it accepting the conditions. They thought it was the will of the Holy See. It should be noted that the text does say that the priests are not obliged, but several arguments are offered to push them to do so.

The consequences have often been dramatic for the priests who signed: some had a nervous breakdown after signing; others regretted having done so and felt betrayed; still others, after being made official, were rejected by their parishioners and had to return home.

The consequence, this testimony concludes, is that unprecedented chaos has been created in the Diocese of Baoding. - And this chaos was created by the Vatican policy in its relations with the Chinese government and with the official bishops of the Patriotic Association. It had been predicted by some clairvoyant minds accustomed to CCP practices.