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ID cards could be an issue for priests in China

HONG KONG (UCAN): The State Administration for Religious Affairs in Beijing made identification papers (ID cards) for the registration of Buddhist monks compulsory during 2015 and is planning to do the same for both Taoist and Catholic priests during the coming year.

News concerning the registration process of priests belonging to the official Church community, which is registered with the government, came from a national meeting of government religious affairs directors from across China held in Beijing from January 14 to 15.

While ID cards for religious clerics have been around for years, it is something that has not been taken seriously either by the official Church or the government authorities up until now.

Since priests believe their recognition comes from the Church through their ordination, they have simply ignored any requirement for identification papers from the government in the past.

Father Joseph Li Rongping, the director of Faith Press in Hebei, said that the majority of the priests in the official Church do not have ID cards. 

“They are used only when you travel to another diocese to show the authorities when needed,” Father Li said.

“If the authorities are serious on registering all the priests this time, it could result in forcing those priests who refuse to get an ID card to go underground,” a priest, who identified himself as Father John, observed.

Officials require Buddhist monks and Taoist priests to have the ID cards, because their temples are managed by multiple government departments.

However, Father John said he believes that the push for ID cards has to do with the many fake religious personnel currently masquerading as clerics in China. “But even those ID cards can be faked,” he pointed out.

However, the push may reflect an attempt to gather information on Church activities.

The United Front Work Department—which oversees the State Administration for Religious Affairs—said in a January 8 report that it has provided information to various government departments in an attempt to achieve a unified understanding of religion and religious issues.

A Chinese researcher, who asked not to be named, highlighted the use of the words unified and understanding.

“Often, things need to be read backwards in China. If the United Front Work Department has to bring about a unified understanding, it means there is no consensus,” the researcher explained, pointing out that this also means that “there are split views among different ministerial departments on how to deal with religions.”


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