CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 March 2019

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Pushing more Church people underground

BEIJING (UCAN): The Communist Party of China has begun carrying out its threat to assign certificates detailing the secular name, religious name and national ID card number to Buddhist monks across the country; but with one new twist—a unique faith number is also being added.

By the end of this year, authorities will require the same of both Catholic and Taoist priests, state-run broadcaster CCTV and the party-friendly tabloid, Global Times, reported in early February.

Protestantism and Islam—the other two of the five officially recognised religions in China—will surely face the same process in the near future.

The State Administration for Religious Affairs, the government body that manages religious activity across China, says that any religious personnel without a certificate will be barred from engaging in religious activities.

It appears to be another major step in the control of religion, as the president, Xi Jinping, tightens his regime and becomes increasingly intolerant of threats, perceived or otherwise, to the political status quo.

While initially the ID card was mooted as a safeguard against bogus monks, it now also includes mechanisms to keep tabs on Internet usage and monetary support organisations may be receiving, especially from overseas.

Frustration among China’s hundreds of millions of religious believers appears to be running higher than at any time since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.

The Chinese Communist Party is restricting, harassing, torturing and, in some cases, even killing members of these religious groups in the name of preserving the party and maintaining stability.

But in always trying to control, the party risks creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in which religious groups begin to find ways to undermine Beijing’s tight grip.

The Global Times made a rare admission of this problem in a surprisingly even-handed assessment of the new religious certification scheme during mid-February.

“The certificate will become a tool for government officials to easily veto those religious practitioners they don’t favour,” Liu Peng, director of the Pushi Institute for Social Sciences in Beijing, said in one of a number of criticisms aired in the article.

Priests within the state-registered Catholic Church have already said that instead of seeking to obtain the necessary certification, they may instead go underground. This is telling, as what this new scheme aims to do is further divide and conquer. 

It makes all religious personnel jump through yet more hoops to find favour with authorities just to practice their faith in an increasingly state-controlled environment.

But for many, this could well be the tipping point. Previously compliant priests, monks, nuns and sisters may instead choose to operate outside of the party-controlled system—the exact opposite result the scheme intends.

The certificate scheme represents another decisive move that can well split the Church and other faiths, depending on whether their adherents toe the party line or not, and pushes more people underground.

Given the Communist Party almost never uses laissez-faire or gentle persuasion when force is available, there is little to suggest that Beijing will back down on this scheme.

By its very nature, the party simply doesn’t consider views counter to its own and its knee-jerk reaction is always force ahead of finesse, which may explain why the Communist Party is loathed by the majority of China’s 300 million who belong to a Church or faith, democrats in Hong Kong, an increasing majority in Taiwan and much of the outside world.

 

The fragile image of the party may well suffer more dents and have less candles lit at its birthday party.

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