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Simple measure has insidious side

HONG KONG (AsiaNews): On February 13, the Global Times reported that China is launching a massive campaign to check and register the identities of all religious workers.

It is proposing a certificate showing the religious name, secular name, national ID card number and a unique number assigned to every individual religious minister.

The campaign started with Buddhist monks, but was soon extended to include Taoist and Catholic priests, who will have to apply for certificates by the end of this year.

If an application from a priest, monk or religious site is rejected by the authorities, the applicant will not be granted a certificate by the concerned religious association.

State Administration for Religious Affairs regulations say that those without certificates will be forbidden to engage in religious activities.

Then on February 25 at a meeting with officials from the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the United Front Work Department, Catholic leaders of the two government-controlled official organisations, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China, unsurprisingly endorsed the 2016 work plans that the country’s authorities laid out for them.

Priests from the unofficial communities believe that the purpose of this registration is to force them to register and push them into the official Church if they apply for the identity card.

Consequently, they find themselves in a serious dilemma, since, in order to be able to carry on pastoral ministry, they will have to apply for the registration through the Patriotic Association, as well as accept the principle of the autonomy, independence and democratic administration of the Church.

Many of them are really in trouble, since it goes against their beliefs and they do not know how to get out of it. Even several priests from the official communities are not happy about the measure, because it creates further difficulties.

The problem is not seen as being the registration process as such, in fact, many see that as desirable, but they query why they have to apply to the Patriotic Association and not simply to the State Administration for Religious Affairs or some other civil office, as is done in other nations.

The tricky side of the move by the government is that it is difficult to interpret it as religious repression, as it appears to be purely a normal civic procedural measure. 

However, as with many things, the detail is the devil.

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