Sinicisation programme could help Chinese-Vatican relations

Chinese dioceses have been told to prepare local versions of a sinicisation programme.

The programme aims to bring Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Daoism and Buddhism Churches more in-line with the government’s understanding of Chinese culture, society and politics.

For Catholics, a spokesperson says the programme could also be a factor in ongoing Chinese-Vatican relations.

“China and the Vatican can establish diplomatic relations regardless of the conditions, and the mainland can still tighten its grip on the Church with its plan.”

The Chinese Bishops’ Conference (BCCCC) and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) sent dioceses the 15-page ‘Five-Year Plan on Promoting the Chinese Catholic Church’s Adherence to Sinicisation’ (2018-22) in June.

The dioceses have to formulate and report their own five-year plans to the CCPA and BCCCC before the end of August.

“It is to complete the Chinese-style socialist road within five years,” a source says.

“Even if they do not get approval from the Holy See, they will still get trust from the government.”

The Catholic Church in China is divided. On one side there is the government-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and, on the other, the underground Church.

Many episcopal appointments in the underground church are not acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

While the underground churches are monitored by local officials, they are generally tolerated. However, many underground priests, bishops, and laity have faced persecution and harassment.

The Holy See is trying to establish an agreement with the Chinese government.

It hopes the agreement could lead to Vatican recognition of seven illicitly ordained bishops aligned with Beijing and to a more normal life for underground Catholics.

However, some bishops who are loyal to the Holy See have been asked to resign or retire early to make way for government-appointed replacements as part of the sinicisation programme.

Under the programme, new regulations on religious activities have been devised. These include:

Worship is allowed only in designated churches and according to a schedule approved by government administrators.

Worship is illegal in every other place, including private houses.

Group prayer in private houses is forbidden and can result in arrest.

Every church must display at its entrance a notice that the building is “prohibited to minors under age 18” and that children and teenagers are not allowed to take part in religious rites.

The programme has met considerable resistance from critics, both in China and overseas.


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