China and Catholics
Chinese Communists have persecuted Christians since taking power in 1949. (Communists do that; they kill and imprison Christians whenever possible, but are rarely condemned for these actions by leftist journalists and historians anywhere.) Those Catholics loyal to the papal see were forced underground, and their numbers today may be as high as 10 million. In 1999, the government began an intensive crackdown. Six bishops who refused to join the government’s puppet Catholic Patriotic Association have been arrested, and their whereabouts are unknown.
In 2001, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom presented its International Religious Freedom Award to religious groups oppressed by China. At the ceremony, Congressman Chris Smith declared that religious freedom “is not an American value that we are trying to impose on the dictatorship in Beijing. It is a universally recognized value that they themselves have acceded to and yet, regrettably, have fallen woefully short of implementing.” The reaction from China was continued belligerence. Seven priests loyal to the Vatican were arrested as recently as the spring of 2005. Two puppet bishops were installed earlier this year.
A policy shift may be in the making. The Vatican, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, has been eager to have diplomatic relations with China. But it has been unwilling to water down its demand for human rights for the nation’s 1.3 billion people. In February, 2006 the pope elevated Bishop Joseph Zen of Hong Kong to Cardinal, thereby publicly endorsing Zen’s outspoken defense of liberty and democracy and his many criticisms of the Tiananmen massacre of 1989.
On August 24, the Beijing government released Bishop An Shuxin, an auxiliary of the Baoding diocese in Hebel province, in response to a deal worked out by Vatican officials and Chinese leaders. The underground Church, still loyal to the pope, has been strong in the Hebel Diocese.
Bishop An accepted the government’s recognition but refused to register with the Patriotic Association. Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation of Stamford, Connecticut, said that he hopes the move “is not an isolated case, but rather the beginning of the release of many dozens of other Roman Catholic bishops, priests, and faithful.” A broader release, he continued, would “show China’s sincerity about improving its relationships with the Vatican and its human-rights policy.”
On September 26, Asia News, a Vatican-affiliated news agency, reported that Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo, 70, has been released from prison after more than 10 months. The bishop belongs to China’s underground Roman Catholic Church. He was returned to his home in the northern city of Zhengding, where priests of his diocese can visit him.
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