Taiwan foreign ministry: Catholics in China are facing serious challenges

shutterstock 377396446 The flags of Taiwan and the Vatican. | FreshStock/Shutterstock.

Taiwan's foreign ministry responded to the renewal of the Sino-Vatican provisional agreement Thursday by highlighting the worsening religious freedom situation on the mainland.

"With the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] dictating all matters, Catholics in the PRC [People's Republic of China] are facing serious challenges to their faith and conscience," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of China (Taiwan) said in a statement issued Oct. 22.

The government statement indicated that Taiwan has not changed its position on the Holy See's provisional agreement with the Chinese government, which has been extended for two more years until Oct. 22, 2022. The foreign ministry said that Taiwan hoped that it can "improve the worsening situation of religious freedom in the PRC."

"Unfortunately, as the PRC government has stepped up measures to persecute local Catholic communities, such as further suppressing believers who resist being controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and forcing many bishops to join the CCP-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, religious freedom and human rights in China have continued to deteriorate," the foreign ministry said.

"This so-called 'sinicization of religion' in the PRC has become 'nationalization of religion,' even characterized by extensive CCP indoctrination," it added.

Taiwan's foreign ministry also said that it "highly values" the "solemn commitment" made by the Vatican that its confidential agreement with China does not pertain to diplomatic relations.

The Holy See is the only remaining country in Europe that recognizes Taiwan as a country. For 77 years, the Holy See has had formal diplomatic relations with the country officially known as the Republic of China (ROC), while the Church has not had an official diplomatic presence in mainland China since it was officially expelled by Beijing in 1951.

The Chinese Communist Party government in mainland China views Taiwan as a rebel province and has historically put pressure on countries to cut diplomatic ties with the island. After the United Nations ceased to recognize the Taiwanese government in 1971, the majority of member states severed official ties and the Vatican embassy has been led by a chargé d'affairs, rather than a full ambassador.

"The Holy See has publicly stated on numerous occasions that the provisional agreement with the PRC only deals with pastoral issues and does not touch on diplomatic or political matters. Taiwan highly values this solemn commitment and has maintained close contacts with the Holy See, expressing our concern and position," the foreign ministry said. 

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin reiterated this in comments made to journalists Oct. 21, saying that what has been agreed to thus far "does not envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations."

"For the moment there is no talk of diplomatic relations, we are focused on the Church," Parolin said, according to a transcript provided by Italian newspaper Avvenire.

"The agreement does not concern diplomatic relations, nor does it envisage the establishment of diplomatic relations. The agreement concerns the situation of the Church, a specific point which are the appointments of bishops and the difficulties that exist and that we hope to tackle through dialogue," he said.

When asked about the persecution of Christians in China, Parolin responded: "But, what persecutions … You have to use the words correctly. There are regulations that are imposed and which concern all religions, and certainly also concern the Catholic Church."

Following the Vatican-China agreement in 2018, state officials in different regions of China removed crosses and demolished church buildings, and underground Catholics and clergy have reported harassment and detention.

On Sept. 1, priests in the Diocese of Yujiang in Jianxi Province who refused to join the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association were been placed under house arrest and forbidden from "engaging in any religious activity in the capacity of clergy," according to a UCA News report.

In China, religious education of any person under the age of 18 is illegal. This means that catechism classes have been closed and minors are not allowed to enter church buildings. Catholic churches registered with the Chinese authorities are closely monitored via CCTV cameras connected to the public security network. Priests have been forced to attend government training courses.

But other religious groups have fared far worse under the Chinese Communist Party's policies of "sinicization" and technological control, particularly the Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province, who have suffered forced labor, indoctrination, sterilization, forced abortion, and torture in dentention camps.

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The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told journalists at a press conference Oct. 22 that it had had "friendly negotiations with the Vatican" before coming to the decision to extend its agreement with the Holy See.

"The two sides will continue to maintain close communication and consultation and advance the improvement of bilateral ties," it said. 

Taiwan's foreign ministry said that it would "closely monitor related developments."

"Taiwan will continue to advance cooperation with the Holy See and the Catholic Church to jointly safeguard the core values of religious freedom and support those who are persecuted for their faith so as to steadily enhance its longstanding values-based diplomatic partnership with the Holy See," it commented.

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