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China wants revamp of religious affairs body

HONG KONG (UCAN): The anti-corruption watchdog of the Chinese Communist Party released a critical report on the State Administration for Religious Affairs accusing its leadership of being weak and failing to pay adequate attention to the activities of national religious groups.

The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which is tasked with enforcing internal rules and regulations, as well as combating corruption in the Communist Party, delivered its inspection report to the administration on June 6.

It is demanding the government department to address and rectify the problems outlined in the report.

The commission made a detailed inspection of the offices and operations of the religious affairs office between February 27 and April 27. It included extensive talks with individuals, responding to grievances from the public and checking documents and files.

A June 8 report published on the commission’s website says that the inspection office briefed the Politburo Standing Committee on the report before giving its feedback to the religious administration body.

At a meeting on June 6, the leader of the inspection team, Hu Xinyuan, included what he described as a weak central role in leadership, a failure to implement party policy on religion and lack of attention to and supervision of national religious groups under the heading of outstanding problems.

The religious affairs body was also criticised for violating employment rules by hiring relatives and friends, as well as abusing the use of public funds and allowances.

Hu said that the inspection team said it found problems with certain leaders in the administration and has passed those cases onto the central inspection commission and the Central Organisation Department (the secretariat of the Party that controls staffing positions) for further investigation.

Although Hu did not specify exactly who he was referring to in his criticism of leadership, observers say he is implying that more officials may face a probe following the first sacking of an official of the administration, Zhang Lebin, in 2015.

The current director, Wang Zuoan, described the inspection as a comprehensive political examination and said that his department sincerely accepts the report findings.

He added that his office will set up a specialised department to formulate plans to remedy the problems.

The Chinese government recognises five major religions—Buddhism, Catholicism, Islam, Protestantism and Daoism. Each one has at least one national organisation overseeing it.

For the Catholic Church, the national organisations are the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China.

Neither organisation is recognised by the Vatican. Catholics in China often criticise the Patriotic Association as being a government mechanism for controlling the Church.

The inspection report came as no surprise to observers both in and outside of the country.

“The report is not really about anti-corruption. It has explicitly talked about insufficient control on national religious groups. Religions have always been the scourge of the party,” a priest, who identified himself as Father Joseph, said.

“So we can expect a tightening of the controls on religion, as this is a way for officials to get a promotion,” Father Joseph explained.

Another priest in Hebei agreed it will bring a tightening of control, noting that a recent job description for the Patriotic Association in one diocese required a university degree in Marxism.

The position also required direct reporting to the local religious affairs bureau.

Observers also say that the report reflects the findings of a top-level meeting on the National Conference of Religious Work that took place between April 22 and 23.

A Chinese commentator, Gu Ziming, said on his WeChat public account that when the president, Xi Jinping, stressed that the religious officials “must insist on the party’s basic direction on religious work,” the word must was intended as a criticism of failure to perform.

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