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Economist: The Party Versus the Pope

December 9, 2010

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The Economist reports on the Communist Party is in China tightening its control of the Catholic church.

The Catholic church in China, according to a state-affiliated Catholic newspaper, Tianguang, has never enjoyed the sort of “political and religious harmony and friendly atmosphere that it has today.” This is not exactly the gospel truth. The Communist Party is trying to tighten its control of the Catholic church in China. Some of its members, as well as the Vatican, are fuming.

The rosy newspaper commentary marked the opening on December 7th in Beijing of a national congress of Chinese Catholic representatives. The Vatican objects to the conclave, which is intended to elect new leaders of the Chinese church's governing bodies. These are, in effect, government appointments over which the Vatican has no say. Several Chinese bishops, who would have preferred to stay away out of loyalty to the Vatican, have been forced to attend the three-day event.

Tension between the Vatican and the Communist Party's church-controllers has risen sharply in recent days. Earlier this month a group of seminarians at the Hebei Catholic Theological and Philosophical Seminary in the city of Shijiazhuang, 300km (185 miles) south of Beijing, mounted an unusually open protest. With the support of teachers, all 102 of the school's seminarians went from their campus on the dusty industrial outskirts of Hebei province's capital to the downtown office of the government's religious-affairs bureau. There the students, wearing their white school uniforms, peacefully demanded the removal of an official at the bureau, Tang Zhaojun, as deputy rector of the school. Mr Tang is not even a Catholic. The students began boycotting classes shortly after his appointment on November 11th and only resumed their studies on December 6th. Officials at the religious-affairs bureau brusquely refuse comment. But a seminary priest says the government has made a concession. It has agreed to remove Mr Tang from his leadership position and keep him only in a teaching role. The priest says “more big problems” will arise if the government fails to keep its promise. “We are all very united”, he says.

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