A Chinese government official who oversees religious affairs said Tuesday that government restrictions on bishop appointments are not a violation of religious freedom, as he emphasized that religions in China must “adapt to socialist society.”
Chen Zongrong, former deputy director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, spoke at an April 3 press conference presenting a government “white paper” on “Chinese policy regarding the practice and safeguarding of religious freedom.”
“I disagree with the view that preventing Rome from having full control over the selection of bishops hinders religious freedom,” Chen said, according to the AP. “I believe there is no religion in human society that transcends nations.”
“The Chinese constitution clearly states that China’s religious group and religious affairs cannot be controlled by foreign forces, and [the foreign forces] should not interfere in Chinese religious affairs in any way,” he stated.
The white paper said that “Actively guiding religions in adapting to the socialist society means guiding religious believers to … be subordinate to and serve the overall interests of the nation and the Chinese people,” as well as “guiding religious groups to support the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the socialist system.”
The phrase “active guidance”, found scattered throughout the white paper, is a slogan of President Xi Jinping. Under Xi the Chinese government is pursuing an effort to “Sinicize” religion. In his role as general secretary of the Communist Party, Xi called last October for “new approaches” to religious and ethnic affairs.
The State Administration for Religious Affairs, of which Chen had been deputy director, was in March absorbed into the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, which is now responsible for government oversight of religion.
The Church in China is split between an underground Catholic Church and the officially recognized Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association. Every bishop recognized by Beijing must be a member of the association, which is now under day-to-day direct supervision of the Chinese Communist Party.
The Holy See is in negotiations with the Chinese government that could eventually lead to Vatican recognition of seven illicitly ordained bishops aligned with Beijing and to a more normal life for underground Catholics.
Many underground bishops, priests, and lay faithful have faced persecution and harassment.