Priests in Henan, China, fear data on faithful may be misused

Catholics in China’s Henan province are the subject of new government-issued rules.

Some see these as tightening restrictions against Catholics in the province.

Henan is thought to have one of the most significant proportions of Christians of any Chinese province. According to Pew Institute figures, 10 percent of China’s ten million Catholics are concentrated there.

New rules include the requirement of religious working in the province to collect data and information on their faithful.

Fearing reprisals if they identify themselves, a priest expressed concern about the rules.

He says he has received a notice from municipal authorities requesting that churches in the province gather statistics on the backgrounds of their congregations, especially those from poor families. He is refusing to cooperate.

“This is totally unreasonable. I suspect their hidden agenda may be to cancel people’s low-income subsidies,” he said.

“Now we just have to wait for the inspection. We’ll see what they say before deciding what to do,” another priest says.

He is concerned about what the authorities intend to do with the data collected.

The government says the new regulation is intended to improve the way churches and other religious sites are managed.

The priest thinks the information will more likely be used to limit and repress religious activity in the province.

He says a “Special Emergency Notice” was given to him at the beginning of the month.

Besides registering and disclosing the circumstances of his congregation, the notice directs:

  • priests to report any minors entering the religious buildings, and any neon lights or enclosures in places of worship
  • priests to post a list of members of the clergy in the parishes so that the authorities can verify who has permission to preach
  • priests to display the Chinese flag at all places of worship and ensure the national anthem is sung during each celebration.

The notice also issues directives concerning the new rules on religious affairs and statistics to improve municipal registers.

In addition, it says members of the “special project” office will make unannounced visits to ensure compliance.

This year, efforts to suppress religion in the province have intensified. For example, since 1 February, minors have been denied access to places of worship. Since then, every Sunday, police cars guard church entrances.

Henan authorities are also said to have destroyed the tombstone of Vatican-appointed Bishop Li Hongye, whose appointment was not recognized by the government.

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News category: World.

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