Reports of the destruction or desecration of Catholic churches and shrines have come from across China, including the provinces of Hebei, Henan, Guizhou, Shaanxi, and Shandong.
The Church in mainland China has been divided for some 60 years between the underground Church, which is persecuted and whose episcopal appointments are frequently not acknowledged by Chinese authorities, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, a government-sanctioned organization.
A Sept. 22 agreement between the Holy See and Beijing was intended to normalize the situation of China’s Catholics and unify the underground Church and the Patriotic Association.
The agreement has been roundly criticized by human rights groups and some Church leaders, including Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.
Zen wrote in a column for the New York Times that the agreement was a step toward the “annihilation” of the Catholic Church in China.
While Pope Francis is “very pastoral,” Zen said he does not think that he properly understands how communist China works. In Pope Francis’ home country of Argentina, the communists worked to defend the poor against government oppression, often alongside Jesuits, he said. This could be why the pope “may have a natural sympathy for Communists,” as he views them to be persecuted.