Communist Party grabs religious funding

New government measures will come into force on 1 June, placing the economy of religious sites into the hands of the United Front Work Department and the Ministry of Finance. The new rules, which also regulate donations and offerings, are meant to promote the “sinicisation” of religion.

Rome (AsiaNews) – The Communist Party of China (CPC) is cracking down on the funding of religious groups.

China’s Ministry of Finance and the State Administration for Religious Affairs[*] (SARA) jointly formulated measures for the financial management of religious activity sites, which will come into force on 1 June.

The new regulations are designed to streamline the financial affairs (revenues, local and foreign donations, and expenses) of religious entities.

Catholic sources told AsiaNews that the authorities might be trying to curb abuses. The content of donation boxes must for example be counted and recorded by three people, a curious procedure.

The new rules impose greater government (i.e., party) control over religious activities. With the United Front Work Department and the Ministry of Finance now in charge of the economy of religious sites, religious personnel, believers, and donors need only be consulted.

Places of worship and their finances can be used “only” in accordance with Communist Party’s instructions, not on the basis of the mission of the local community or the bishop.

Many official Catholic churches allow underground groups (recognised by the Vatican but not by the authorities) to use their premises, including chapels. Now this will be impossible because it is against the law and the new measures. The same goes for the use of money.

Economic issues might be behind problems in certain places, like the Diocese of Xuanhua (Hebei), where Bishop Augustine Cui Tai continues to be persecuted.

In the underground community, certain assets are held by individuals (like the bishop) and could be inherited by others. The new regulations make this illegal.

Under the new measures, religious groups are essentially treated as NGOs, their finances and operations monitored by the government. Thus, they are not truly “non-governmental”.

The new rules also make false claims. Article 6 states that, “The legal property and income of religious activity sites are protected by law” and thus cannot be violated by any organisation or private individual.

In fact, the authorities seized assets that belong to the Catholic Church, both official and underground, during the Cultural Revolution, which the government never returned even if it is required under the law.

In an interview in 2005, scholar Anthony Lam explained that Church assets are worth billions of dollars. Now, financial control of religious groups strengthens the regime's policy of sinicisation of religion, a process officially launched in 2015.

New administrative measures for religious information services on the internet came into effect on 1 March this year; now it is no longer possible to carry out online religious activities in China without government authorisation.

In February, SARA released a set of administrative measures for religious personnel to manage clergy, monks, priests, bishops, etc.

In February 2018, the CPC introduced new regulations on religious activities, whereby religious personnel can perform their duties only if they join “official” bodies and submit to the Party.

As for the Catholic Church, despite the signing in 2018 of the Sino-Vatican Agreement on episcopal appointments, which was renewed in October 2020, the persecution of Church officials, especially in the underground Church, continues.

[*] SARA is government agency under the control of the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.