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People pray during a 2013 Mass in Qingdao, China.

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Catholics warn against new rules on religion in China
October 4th, 2016
By Jonathan Luxmoore

WARSAW, Poland – Catholic experts warned that new rules on religion in China could severely hamper the church’s work by curbing its foreign contacts and imposing heavy penalties for unauthorized activity.

“Compared with previous drafts, these regulations are more restrictive, since they include references to national security,” said Anthony Lam, executive secretary of the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong’s Catholic diocese.

“They may not make a great difference for China’s underground Catholic church, since it’s illegal anyway. But they’ll have a great impact on the church’s open community, which has to report everything to the government.”

China’s government was set to approve the draft regulations and implement them Oct. 7. The 74-article text, published Sept. 8 by China’s State Council for Legislative Affairs, tightens control over foreign clergy and religious material on the internet and imposes fines of up to 200,000 yuan ($30,000) for “illegal religious activities,” such as unauthorized pilgrimages. The new regulations state that “citizens enjoy religious freedom” in China and that “no organization can discriminate against citizens who believe in a religion.”

Lam told Catholic News Service Sept. 30 that the draft was much more extensive than existing rules, implemented in 2005, and reflected attempts by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs to “enlarge its power over religions.”

He said the new regulations contradicted progress in recent talks between the Chinese government and Vatican representatives. Reuters reported Aug. 27 that Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, was heralding a “new season” in “hoped-for good relations.” However, the cardinal noted: “One has to be realistic and accept that there are a number of problems that need resolving between the Holy See and China and that often, because of their complexity, they can generate different points of view.”

Father Paul Han Qingping, director of the Catholic Church’s Jinde Charities, said the Chinese government was “upgrading its religious policy” because of “international and domestic challenges, such as religion-related terrorism.” He said the restrictions would alarm Catholic communities, despite accompanying pledges to “protect citizens’ religious freedom.”

“The new rules could be good in clearly stating the do’s and don’ts and placing everyone on the same page,” said Father Han, “but they could also be bad by making religious communities nervous as to how far their freedom will now be hampered.”

From October 6, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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