The Congressional-Executive Commission on China, CECC, published its annual report for 2020 last Thursday. The report called for the incoming Biden administration to work alongside the Vatican to address Catholics being persecuted in China. According to the report, diplomatic engagement is needed between the US and the Vatican, encouraging Vatican officials to reevaluate an agreement with China on the ordination of bishops back in 2018.
- The CECC is calling for diplomatic engagement between Biden’s administration and the Vatican to address Catholics being persecuted in China.
- The commission’s report states religious persecution in China was worse in 2020 than in 2019.
- What stand will the new administration take?
In the interests of keeping Chinese officials both transparent and accountable, the list of diplomatic priorities included the Vatican being pressed to “publish the original agreement and any negotiated revisions.”
In September of 2018, China and the Vatican made a provisional agreement on bishops being appointed, with the Holy See aiming to unify the communist state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, CCPA, with China’s underground Church that is united with Rome. This would make it possible for bishops to be appointed in China. According to the commission’s report, while there are 10 – 12 million Catholics estimated to be living in China, there are only just over five million Catholics who have registered with the CCPA.
Last October, the agreement’s “experimental implementation phase” was renewed. Those criticizing the deal make the argument the Chinese Communist Party is given too much influence in the episcopal candidates and that the underground Catholics are still being persecuted.
The report says the incoming administration should “work with Vatican officials” regarding the persecution of Catholics in China. Also, technical assistance needs to be offered, protecting the communication of Vatican diplomats from cyberattacks launched by the Chinese government. Again, this is all highly suggested by the commission’s report.
Has the Agreement Between the Vatican and China Produced Change?
Last July, there were reports of a computer network within the Vatican that suffered a cyberattack from hijackers sponsored by the Chinese state. This happened before the renewal of the provisional agreement negotiations began.
The time period from July 1, 2019 – July 1, 2020, is covered by the CECC’s report. This includes the documented abuse of religious freedom throughout China and pro-democracy protestor crackdowns in Hong Kong. The numbers were high enough representing the persecution of Catholics and other groups in 2019. The report notes the numbers were even higher throughout 2020.
The report also states that last year the Communist Party and Chinese government took “unprecedented steps in the previous year to extend their repressive policies through censorship, intimidation, and the detention of individuals and groups for expressing their fundamental human rights, especially in the Xinjiang Uyghur Region and Hong Kong.
The region of Xinjiang, mostly Muslim, saw some of the most extreme human rights abuses. According to the report, this is “where new evidence emerged that crimes against humanity – and possible genocide – are occurring.”
How Severe is China’s Religious Persecution?
“Up to 1.8 million Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Hui, and others” have been imprisoned in a camp system. They are subject to torture, forced labor, as well as political indoctrination, according to the report. If this wasn’t horrific enough, “disturbing new evidence” of mass forced sterilization surfaced last year of Uyghur women. Uyghur children were separated from their families. According to the report, these actions need consideration from international bodies when considering the region’s genocide determination.
The report also claims, “These trends suggest that the Chinese government is intentionally working to destroy Uyghur and other minority families, culture, and religious adherence.”
Until his book “Let Us Dream” was published, Pope Francis didn’t publicly speak on Uyghurs and other minorities being mass detained. Despite China and the Vatican renewing the agreement that had been made last October, underground lay Catholics continued to be harassed in China, along with priests and bishops.
The destruction of churches has also continued since the agreement was renewed. Catholics have continued to be pressured to join the CCPA sanctioned by the communist state. The harassment and detention of clergy continued when they refused to join the CCPA.
After being pressured to join the association and sign a statement confirming his separation from the Holy See, Mindang’s auxiliary bishop, Vincent Guo Xijin, was reportedly under government surveillance. Also, it was reported Father Huang Jintong was detained in Fujian last April for refusing to sign a similar statement.
How will the Biden Administration Respond?
I will take the easy way out. I’m confident the relationship between the United States and China is getting ready to go through some drastic changes. A new administration is coming into office. The way our government responds and engages China will be much different than it’s been the previous four years.
That being said, there were many Catholics who decided to vote for Biden despite his opinion on abortion. As a practicing Catholic myself, I’m interested to see which side our government decides to back. Could there be reasons why President-elect Joe Biden decides to take a neutral stand despite the suggestions of the CECC? Or will Biden allow his faith to take a stand and support the Vatican officials? I think much more will be revealed in the coming months.
Jeffrey Stevens is a published author and is currently earning his second degree in theology from Aidan University. His writings are focused on the Christian faith, mixed with some sports writing from time to time. When it comes to his faith, he had articles published on websites such as Catholic 365, Big Pulpit, Catholic Stand, and Joshua’s Outpost.
As a sportswriter, his articles have been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report. Jeffrey can be heard hosting the Gospel Grammar show, available on Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, and RadioPublic.