The regulation goes on, introducing two novel elements. The first is seen in Article 8, which states: “Religious clergy, when publishing religious information on the internet, should comply with the relevant provisions of the national internet information regulations.”
And then, in what is seen as its most pernicious feature, Article 33 states: “The State Administration of Religious Affairs shall establish a database of religious clergy, the local people’s government departments of religious affairs should provide and update the basic information of religious clergy, including awards and punishments, cancellation of records, and other information.”
On May 23, the database for Catholic clergy was finally launched. Registration is compulsory and should any clergy member be found guilty of breaking any of the rules, his official membership can be canceled and religious functions suspended.
While government officials maintain that the database was created to crack down on fraudulent clerics, the case of Father Yang reveals that it is a pretense to strong-arm obstinate clerics into registering with state-sanctioned religious bodies — it is a concrete application of the 2021 Measures on the Management of Religious Clergy.
Yang’s arrest is the latest example of the government’s attack on Catholic clergy and highlights a broader concern over the trajectory of religious liberty in China.
It also comes after Pope Francis’ visit to Mongolia. At the end of the papal mass in Ulaanbaatar on Sept. 3, the Holy Father took a moment to greet the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, Cardinal John Tong Hon, and the current bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal-elect Stephen Chow Sau-yan, SJ.
“These are two brother bishops, the emeritus of Hong Kong and the current bishop of Hong Kong,” the pope said. “I would like to take advantage of their presence to send a warm greeting to the noble people of China. To all the people I wish the best. Strive ahead, always advancing. And I ask Chinese Catholics to be good Christians and good citizens.”
Italian Cardinal Matteo Zuppi was in Beijing this week as the pope’s special envoy to help promote peace and humanitarian initiatives in light of the ongoing war in Ukraine. Thus far the Holy See has not made any statement on Yang’s conviction.