“On the one hand, the Holy See does not intend to force anyone’s conscience. On the other hand, it considers that the experience of clandestinity is not a normal feature of the Church’s life and that history has shown that pastors and faithful have recourse to it only amid suffering, in the desire to maintain the integrity of their faith.”
“Until such time as a modality for the civil registration of the clergy that is more respectful of Catholic doctrine, and thus of the consciences of those involved, is established,” the Vatican document states, “no intimidatory pressures [may] be applied to the ‘non-official’ Catholic communities, as, unfortunately, has already happened.”
In April of this year, government officials offered a bounty for information leading to the arrest of underground religious leaders. Since the signing of the provisional agreement in September, 2018, several Catholic bishops and priests have been either arrested or detained by state authorities.
At a Congressional hearing held in Washington on June 27, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, said that religious persecution in China has “never been worse than it is right now.”
“Under ‘sinicization,’ all religions and believers must comport with and aggressively promote communist ideology -- or else,” Smith said.
“Religious believers of every persuasion are harassed, arrested, jailed, or tortured. Only the compliant are left relatively unscathed. Bibles are burned, churches are destroyed, crosses set ablaze atop church steeples.”
Noting that article 36 of the Chinese constitution explicitly guarantees religious freedom, the new Vatican guidelines reference the 2018 provisional agreement’s recognition of the “independence” of the Church in China.
This independence should in no way be interpreted as an independence from the authority of the pope, the guidelines say, and the term is only to be understood “relative to the political sphere, as happens everywhere in the world in the relations between the Universal Church and the particular Churches.”
As the situation develops, the Vatican document urges the faithful in China to take an understanding approach to different decisions made in good conscience by their leaders.
“It is important,” the document says, “that the lay faithful not only understand the complexity of the situation but in addition accept with an open heart the anguished decision taken by their pastors, whatever it may be. The local Catholic community should accompany them in a spirit of faith, with prayer and affection, refraining from any judgement of the choices of others, maintaining the bond of unity and demonstrating mercy towards all.”