02/10/2021, 12.59
CHINA - VATICAN
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The 'Big Brother' of religions: Beijing’s new database

by Wang Zhicheng

It will contain all information on religious personnel, including the punishments received and the revocation of their ministry. A document on the management of clergy, monks, priests, bishops, who above all have the obligation to "support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system", "resist illegal religious activities and religious extremism and resist infiltration of foreign forces that use religion”. "Religions continue to be treated as state institutions and the commitments of religious workers as civil servants". The "pastoral" value of the Sino-Vatican Agreement is in crisis.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) has launched a database that contains all information on religious personnel. It will also record "rewards", "punishments" received, including "the revocation" of their ministry and "other information". Everything will be updated "in a timely manner".

The launch of the database is one of the novelties (art. 33) mentioned in the document "Administrative measures for religious personnel", made public yesterday and which once again reveals the total control of religious experiences in China.

7 chapters and 52 articles that meticulously regulate the registration of religious personnel, their characteristics and the type of work, the "rights", but above all the "obligations" of bishops, priests, Buddhist and Taoist monks, etc.…

The document was first published last November on SARA's website to collect possible suggestions and corrections. It was released yesterday with very few changes and will go into effect on May 1st.

Any person who wants to exercise a religious function must meet the following criteria: they must "love the motherland, support the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, support the socialist system, respect the Constitution, laws, regulations and rules, practice the fundamental values of socialism, adhere to the principle of independence and self-management of religion and adhere to the religious policy of China, maintaining national unity, ethnic unity, religious harmony and social stability "(art.3).

It should be noted that the "obligations" include "resisting [countering] illegal religious activities and religious extremism and resisting infiltration by foreign forces that use religion." For Catholics this means that official priests and bishops will not be able to express communion with unofficial bishops and priests, thus endorsing and supporting the division imposed by the regime.

Even Catholic bishops, although "approved and ordained" by the Council of Chinese bishops, can only exercise their ministry after registering with SARA. In this way, the state and not the Church retains management of the pastoral ministry of bishops (art. 16).

The situation of the "living buddhas" in Tibetan Buddhism is very similar: they will not be able to exercise any ministry, nor will they be considered true reincarnations without the permission of the Chinese Communist Party (art. 15).

Questioned by AsiaNews, a Catholic priest in China commented: “There is nothing new in this document. Religions continue to be treated as state institutions and the commitments of religious workers as civil servants. So much so that their work must be regulated, controlled and registered as a civilian job. Registration takes place through religious organizations, but at the responsible civil offices. And this is especially painful for the bishops”.

On 8 February, when he met the Diplomatic Corps, at a certain point, Pope Francis mentioned the renewal of the provisional agreement between China and the Holy See. " The agreement is essentially pastoral in nature, and the Holy See is confident that the process now begun can be pursued in a spirit of mutual respect and trust, and thus further contribute to the resolution of questions of common interest ".

Several priests in China are wondering if this new document on "Administrative Measures" does not undermine the "pastoral" achievements of the Agreement, given that it submits the ministry of bishops to the power of the Party and reiterates the division between official and underground communities.

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