Some Catholic Bishops Forced To Attend National Conference Against Their Will

February 7, 2011

From December 7-9, 2010, the eighth National Conference of Chinese Catholic Representatives (NCCCR) convened in Beijing to choose new leaders for China's state-controlled Catholic church. During the NCCCR, Chinese government and Communist Party leaders emphasized that conference delegates have a responsibility to practice their religion in conformity with government and Party policies. The government and Party continue to insist that Catholics in China cannot choose to accept the authority of the Holy See independent from the government and Party. Among the new Catholic leaders chosen at the NCCCR are two of the last three bishops ordained in China since 2006 without the consent of the Holy See, and according to international media reports, local authorities in various locations throughout China forced some bishops to attend the conference against their will.

Government and Party Leaders Instruct Catholics To Practice Religion in Conformity With Government and Party Policies

Throughout the NCCCR, government and Party leaders emphasized that Catholics in China should practice their religion in conformity with government and Party policies. According to a December 7, 2010, press release (Chinese) from China's State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), the themes of the NCCCR, which began on December 7, included "raising high the banner of loving the country and loving religion," "improving the construction of patriotic organizations and patriotic strength," "unifying the extensive religious personnel and religious believers in walking the road of adapting to socialist society," "and making due contributions to economic and social development.. ." SARA director Wang Zuo'an, reportedly speaking on behalf of SARA and the Party's United Front Work Department (UFWD) at the conference, reportedly told delegates that he "hoped conference delegates would, with a great sense of mission and responsibility..., lead the extensive masses of religious believers in engaging themselves in the magnificent task of the great revival of the Chinese nation."

Jia Qinglin―the fourth-highest ranking member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party Central Committee―stressed the Party's efforts to prevent Catholics in China from practicing their faith independent of Party policies. According to a December 9, 2010, Xinhua report (Chinese), Jia met with representatives of two "patriotic religious organizations"―the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and the Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China (BCCCC)―at the NCCCR on December 9 and emphasized that "[r]eligious work is an important component of the work of the Party and the country... ." He also emphasized that the CCP Central Committee "continuously consolidates and develops a patriotic united front between the Party and the religious community." These various comments echoed similar remarks that Wang and Jia made in 2010 during national conferences of China's state-run Taoist and Buddhist "patriotic religious organizations" and meetings with leaders from the patriotic religious organizations.

Authorities Force Bishops To Attend National Conference

In some cases, the Chinese government has denied some bishops the choice to abstain from religious activities that contravene the Holy See's policies. On December 17, 2010―eight days after the conclusion of the NCCCR―the Holy See released a statement (full text available via Union of Catholic Asian News, 17 December 10) in which it alleged that "many Bishops and priests were forced to take part in the assembly." According to a December 16, 2010, Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) report (English), authorities instructed local UFWDs and Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureaus throughout China to ensure that enough delegates attend the NCCCR, and according to a December 17, 2010, UCAN report (English), some delegates reported that some bishops attended the NCCCR against their will. Under the principle of the "independent, autonomous, self-managing church"―enshrined in the Charters of the CPA (Art. 3, available in Chinese via SARA's official Web site) and the BCCCC (Art. 3, available in Chinese via SARA's official Web site)―the Chinese government denies Catholics in China the freedom to recognize the authority of the Holy See to select bishops in China without the approval of the Chinese government. According to a December 22, 2010, Xinhua report (Chinese), SARA cited this principle in a statement that it made in response to the allegations in the December 17 statement from the Holy See. Through elections that one delegate reportedly alleged had procedural flaws, according to the December 16, 2010, UCAN report, delegates to the NCCCR chose three bishops ordained without approval from the Holy See to hold high-level leadership positions in the CPA and BCCCC: Ma Yinglin as vice chairman of the CPA and chairman of the BCCCC, Guo Jincai as vice chairman of the CPA and secretary general of the BCCCC, and Zhan Silu as vice chairman of the BCCCC (SARA, in Chinese, 9 December 10).

Among those reportedly forced to attend the NCCCR was bishop Feng Xinmao of Hengshui diocese, Hebei province. According to a December 8, 2010, Washington Post article, a friar at the Jing county cathedral in Hengshui city reported that security officials used force to remove Feng from the cathedral on December 6. Reports regarding Feng's release are not available, but according to a January 14, 2011, Faith Press report (Chinese), Feng was present at a January 12, 2011, meeting of the board of directors of the Shijiazhuang-based Hebei Catholic Seminary, which chose Feng to take over as rector of the seminary. According to a November 25, 2010, Economist article, Feng was one of eight bishops who participated in the November 20 ordination of Guo Jincai of Chengde diocese, Hebei province, the first ordination of a Catholic bishop to take place in China without the approval of the Holy See since November 2006, when the state-controlled church ordained Wang Renlei in Jiangsu province without the consent of the Holy See. According to a November 19, 2010, AsiaNews report (English), the Chinese government established the Chengde diocese in May 2010, and the Holy See does not recognize it. According to the same report, the government pressured at least some of the eight bishops to attend Guo's ordination ceremony against their will. Bishop Li Liangui of the Cangzhou diocese in Hebei province reportedly was another one of the bishops forced to attend the ordination ceremony. According to reports from AsiaNews (6 December 10, English; 7 December 10, English), shortly before the NCCCR, public security authorities could not locate Li and reportedly told members of his diocese that they would attempt to find him. According to a January 20, 2011, UCAN report, Li returned to his diocese on December 17, 2010, and authorities subsequently took him to attend a political study session and ordered him to write a letter of apology for his absence. He reportedly now has returned to the diocese

For more information on conditions for Catholics in China, see Section II―Freedom of Religion in the CECC's 2010 Annual Report and a related CECC analysis. For more information on Feng Xinmao, see the CECC's Political Prisoner Database.