China: The State Will Hold the Church’s Purse Strings

April 28, 2022
Great Hall of the People, Beijing

Starting June 1, a new stage in the sinicization of religions will be implemented by placing under the supervision of the state the finances of the various religious organizations present on Chinese soil. A measure that further weakens the provisional agreement signed between China and the Holy See in 2018, and which is due to expire in a few months.

China’s Ministry of Finance and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) have just announced the establishment of a joint system concerning the financial management of religious entities, in particular Catholic.

The new regulations – which are due to come into force on June 1, 2022 – are officially designed to streamline for the financial affairs of the various religious entities which carry out activity on the soil of the Middle Kingdom: revenues, local and foreign donations, and expenses.

In fact, by this means, the government's control will singularly increase over all religious activities. In theory, churches and their finances will only be able to be used according to the instructions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and will be much less under the decision of the diocesan bishop or the parish priest.

Many official Catholic churches allow underground groups (recognized by the Vatican but not by the authorities) to use their premises, including chapels. Now this will be impossible because it is against the law and the new measures. The same goes for the use of money.”

The new financial provisions enacted by Xi Jinping are a further step in the policy of sinicisation of religion, a process officially launched in 2015.

Already, last March, new administrative measures for religious websites entered into force. Since that date, it is no longer possible to disseminate any religious content whatsoever without being authorized to do so.

A month earlier, a digital database was established by decree in order to control and evaluate all active religious personnel, a measure that applies to the Catholic clergy.

So many measures that bring to mind, mutatis mutandis, what happened in France beginning in 1790, when the Revolution accelerated its hold on the Church, before openly persecuting it in the months and years that followed.

What emerges from this system is the fragility of the provisional secret agreement signed between the Vatican and Beijing in October 2018, renewed in 2020, and which expires next fall. A fragility half-confirmed by the Secretary of State of the Holy See during an interview granted to the press before Easter, who mentioned “the eventual necessity of clarifying or reviewing certain points.”