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Religion in China

Can the Catholic faith serve politics? That’s what China wants

Observers question whether religious interpretations can conform with the nation’s needs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 9:30pm

China has asked its officially sanctioned Catholic body to interpret the Vatican’s teachings and dogmas to conform with the mainland’s developments and traditional culture, as part of its push to localise religions.

Top political adviser Yu Zhengsheng, the fourth-ranked member of the Communist Party, met leaders of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association on Wednesday as it celebrated its 60th anniversary at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Yu called on the association to adhere to the sinicization of the religion, Xinhua reported.

“Interpretations of the teachings and dogmas should match the needs of China’s development and the great traditional culture ... and proactively fit into the Chinese characteristics of a socialist society,” Xinhua quoted him as telling the group.

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Yu also hoped the association would strengthen training for followers and clergy, and ensure the leadership of the church was held firmly in the hands of those who loved the nation and religion.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the sinicization of religions in late 2015. At a key national religious work conference last April, he said localisation of faith was an important step to guide religions to fit socialist society.

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However, some Catholic scholars doubt whether Beijing can exert much influence over the interpretation of Catholic teachings and rules.

Anthony Lam, executive secretary at the Holy Spirit Study Centre in Hong Kong, said although the mainland church was administered independently from the Vatican, it still followed the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The mainland church could at most show more support in activities for government policies, he said. “Sinicisation is largely a political slogan,” Lam said. “The teachings and dogmas are the core of the belief, and they cannot be changed according to the will of the government.”

Beijing has refused to accept the authority of the pope over mainland Catholics after it broke off diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951. Relations showed signs of improving last year as the two sides worked on a deal over the appointment of senior clergy on the mainland.

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In an interview with the Vatican Insider website last year, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the bishop of Hong Kong, said Catholic beliefs and Chinese culture shared “natural resonances”.

But he also warned against forced sinicization that violated Catholic teachings.

“It must not be used as an excuse for content that goes against the gospel to be included in the Church,” he was quoted as saying.