China: The Sino-Vatican Agreement Trampled Underfoot

May 12, 2021
St. Paul's Cathedral in Wenzhou

The recent judgment against a faithful Catholic from Zhejiang with a heavy fine for having welcomed a bishop recognized by Rome but not by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) further discredits the agreement signed between the Holy See and Beijing in 2018.

The director of Asianews – the news agency of the Pontifical Institute for Missionary Works (PIME) - once again sounded the alarm on April 27, 2021: according to the information in its possession, more and more Bishops belonging to the underground Church, recognized by Rome, but ignored at present by Beijing, are finding increasing obstacles to the exercise of their ministry.

The most recent event took place in Wangli, Zhejiang, a province with 10 percent Christians, and where there is no shortage of private Catholic places of worship. Wangli is located in the territory of the Diocese of Wenzhou, whose bishop - recognized by the Pope, but not by the CCP - is Msgr. Peter Shao Zhumin.

On March 16, Huang Ruixun, a 56-year-old Catholic, opened the doors of his private chapel to Bishop Shao Zhumin and about twenty faithful. For this reason, he was sentenced to a fine of 200,000 yuan (approximately 25,510 euros): a colossal sum for this man.

The reason for the conviction: having received a bishop “in the context of illegal religious activities, also providing him with room and board.”

The local branch of the Bureau of Religious Affairs, State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), recalls that “facilitating illegal worship activities goes against the new regulations on religious activities,” which requires prior registration with the authorities.

However, the Huang Ruixun chapel has permits allowing it to be used as a private chapel. Also, SARA added another charge: the illegal activity was carried out “by a foreign institution, which goes against the principle of independence, autonomy, and self-reliance of the Church in China.”

The new regulation of religious activities

This is the whole problem: the Bishop of Wenzhou, because he acts legitimately in the name of the Pope, is therefore considered to belong to a “foreign institution,” which does not adhere to the principles of “independence, autonomy, and self-management” of the Church in China…

The new regulations require that every bishop and priest “manifest love for his homeland, support the leadership of the CCP, as well as the socialist system, respect the Constitution, the laws, the regulations and rules, and practice the core values ​​of the socialism.”

Thus, the ever-increasing obstacles imposed on unofficial bishops constitute the best proof, according to Fr. Cervellera, of the failure of the agreement signed between the Holy See and Beijing, which provided for the maintenance of a status quo.

In fact, as the status quo, it no longer counts bishops under house arrest, deprived of water, electricity and gas, or who can no longer be received by their faithful. So many prelates whose original sin is to remain more faithful to Rome than to the socialist creed of Xi Jinping.

There is one more element that should make the Vatican think. In the past, official and unofficial bishops interacted, and followers of the Underground Church were offered the use of “official” churches for ad hoc Masses.

With the entry into force of the new religious regulations, this hospitality becomes risky and illegal: the gap is widening a little more between the different communities, jeopardizing a little more each day a reconciliation, ardently desired by Pope Francis, but above all advanced as the main reason for the 2018 agreement.