China’s recent agreement with the Vatican acknowledging its authority in the country’s Catholic churches is part of Beijing’s larger plan to control Christianity in China, The New York Times reports.
Since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012, China has begun cracking down on Christian churches throughout the country, removing crosses from the tops of buildings in 2016, evicting congregations, and demolishing a megachurch in January of this year, in an attempt to restrict religions that Beijing sees as challenging the authority of the Communist Party.
On Saturday, Pope Francis agreed to recognize the legitimacy of seven bishops that were appointed by the Chinese government. In exchange, China agreed to allow the Vatican a say in how Chinese bishops will be appointed in the future. This change may bring an end to the many underground churches where Chinese Catholics went to worship in secret.
“Well, if there’s an agreement, there’s an agreement,” said Father Paul Dong Guanhua, a self-ordained bishop in an underground church in the northern city of Zhengding in a telephone interview with the Times. “But I find it absurd, and I wonder how many other Catholics can agree with this decision.”
“We’re at a turning point,” Ying Fuk-tsang, the director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Divinity School. “The administration feels that the government had been too lax in the past and now wants to increase the pressure.”
“I think if it helps unite the church, then it’s a good thing,” said Chinese Catholic writer You Yongxin, who lives in the eastern city of Fuzhou. “If the pope is convinced he can get good bishops appointed through this deal, then we have to trust that he will.”
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