Catholic Church in China
Persecution and Confusion
By Joseph M.C. Kung
On July 5, 1999, we issued a press release. An underground Roman Catholic seminarian, Wang Qing, was arrested in May 1999. He was tortured, hung for three days by his hands with his toes barely touching the ground. He was severely beaten. He suffered extensive injury. In addition, he was force-fed with filthy fluid causing serious gastric-intestinal illness and severe diarrhea. Three days later, he was let go without any medical care.
On May 13, another underground priest, Father Yan Weiping, was not that "lucky." Father Yan went to Beijing to offer a secret Mass. He was arrested during the Mass by the government's security force. Shortly afterwards, he was found dead on a street in Beijing at eight o'clock on the same evening. He was only 33. As there was no autopsy performed, the circumstance of Father Yan's death could not be determined. Many underground Catholics have reached a consensus that Father Yan was pushed out of a window after he was killed.
On September 13, we issued another press release. Three priests and one Bishop were arrested. Bishop Lin Xili was under an arrest warrant for several months before he was arrested on September 7. He is 81 years of age.
Some of you may have heard of Cardinal Kung's anniversary celebration two months ago. On July 31 in Stamford, CT, His Eminence Cardinal Kung observed the 50th anniversary of religious persecutions in China. At the same time, he also celebrated his 98th birthday, 70th anniversary of priesthood, 50th as a bishop, and 20th as a Cardinal. One of the priests arrested on August 3 was Father Chu. He also celebrated Cardinal Kung's birthday in Shanghai by simply treating his parishioners to a simple noodle dish. In China, noodles symbolize long life. Upon learning of this noodle celebration, the Chinese Security Bureau indicated its displeasure to Father Chu. Three days later, he was arrested. He was released after two days. Then, his living quarters were thoroughly searched and ransacked. Thirteen days later, on August 16, he was re-arrested. The fact that he was first arrested only three days after the simple celebration of birthday noodles led the faithful in the underground Church to believe that the arrest and his celebration of Cardinal Kung's birthday were closely related. You cannot even have a simple noodle dish in China.
In China, one of the most famous Marian shrines was the Shrine of Our Lady of Dong Lu in Hebei Province. This shrine dated back over a hundred years. Each year, in spite of the religious persecutions, tens of thousands of pilgrims would visit this shrine continuously during the month of May.
On April 23, 1995, as witnessed by 30,000 pilgrims and testified by the underground Diocesan Bishop, a spectacular transformation of the sun, very similar to what happened in Fatima, took place during a Mass concelebrated by four underground Bishops and about 110 underground priests. A year later in April or May 1996, 5,000 soldiers, supported by dozens of tanks and helicopters, sealed off this tiny village called Dong Lu. The soldiers destroyed that shrine. They confiscated the Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They arrested the Bishop of this Marian Shrine, Bishop Su Zhimin, along with his auxiliary Bishop, many of his priests, and laypersons. Many of them are still in jail or in hiding, or under house arrest, or under severe surveillance.
Please try to visualize this: 5,000 soldiers, tanks, helicopters, beatings and arrests all against unarmed, defenseless villagers. Doesn't that sound as if it's Tiananmen Square repeated all over again in a smaller square, in that tiny village? The only difference is that there were no reporters, and no cameras.
My friends, while hundreds of millions of Catholics celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Sunday Masses around the world, there is no public Mass for the underground Roman Catholic Church across China. It may be a surprise to you that even today Roman Catholics have no open churches in China because they are illegal, and underground. A Holy Mass, a prayer service, and even praying over the dying are all considered subversive activities if done without the government's permission.
Religious services for the underground can only be secretly conducted in private homes or deserted fields. The Chinese government deems these private gatherings of Roman Catholics as illegal, unauthorized, subversive and punishable by exorbitant fines, detention, house arrests, jail or labor camp.
Since the beginning of this religious persecution in China fifty years ago, hundreds of lay Catholics, priests, nuns, seminarians, novitiates, and Bishops are still in jail or labor camps because they continue to refuse to renounce our Holy Father. It happens throughout China, in villages and in major cities, in the north and in the south.
The Chinese government has apparently adopted a terrorist policy to prevent religious celebrations by underground Catholics. This terrorist policy includes, but is not limited to, savage beatings, heavy fines, detentions, suspension from schools for children, confiscation of farmland, and suspension of water and power supply to homes. Any five families found praying together in the underground Church are now liable to be charged with illegal gathering. Any three families found gathering together are liable to be fined or have their water and power supply cut off. These are not isolated incidences of abuse of power of some local officials. These are the results of the policy of the Chinese government.
In January 1997, an internal document of the Chinese government detailing procedures how to eradicate the underground Catholic Church was smuggled out of China, and was released to the news media by the Cardinal Kung Foundation.
This document was very long but, among other declarations, urged the leadership to employ "resolute, decisive and organized measures ... to eradicate the illegal activities of the underground Catholic Church." All in black and white.
China insists that it has religious freedom. Yet, the fact that underground Catholics are treated as criminals strongly suggests otherwise. If the Chinese government truly advocates religious freedom, then it should demonstrate this intent by investigating the above-mentioned brutal incidents and punishing those responsible by law. Inasmuch as such horrific behavior of government officials is not prosecuted and punished, one must reasonably conclude that these brutal acts are state-sponsored or tolerated terrorism against religious activities in China, and that the Chinese government is plainly lying to the international community regarding its policy of religious freedom and religious rights in China. I am not the only one talking about this.
On September 5, the State Department of the United States Government released a list of seven countries characterized as particularly severe violators of religious freedom. Among them is China.
Who Is Cardinal Kung?
No account of persecutions in China is complete without a few words about His Eminence Cardinal Kung.
Cardinal Kung (Note: This is taken from a speech given at the Bishops Conference, October, 1999. Cardinal Kung died this year, 2000.) was born in Shanghai in 1901. He is now 98 years of age. In China, he is already 99 one year older, because we count our age from the date of our conception. He remains as the only legitimate Bishop of Shanghai. He is also the spiritual leader of the nine million underground Roman Catholics in China.
Cardinal Kung began his seminary studies when he was 19. Ordained a priest at the age of 29, he was consecrated a Bishop fifty years ago last week on the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, AFTER the Communists had already taken over China. He was 48 at that time. He was created a Cardinal in Pectore without himself knowing it, in 1979, at the age of 78, when he was serving a life sentence in isolation. Twelve years later, Cardinal Kung received his Red Hat.
Bishop Kung had only five years as the Bishop of Shanghai and Apostolic Administrator of two other dioceses before he was arrested. In just five short years, Bishop Kung would become one of the most feared enemies of the Chinese Communists a man who would command the attention and devotion of the country's three million Catholics and who would inspire thousands to offer their lives up to God.
In defiance of the Catholic Patriotic Association, Bishop Kung personally supervised the Legion of Mary. As a result, many members chose to risk arrest in the name of their God, in the name of their Church, and in the name of their Bishop. Hundreds of Legion of Mary members, including many students, were arrested and sentenced to 10, 15, 20 years or more of hard labor. My own sister, Margaret, was one of them, serving in hard labor for something over 24 years.
In the midst of persecutions, Bishop Kung declared 1952 as the Marian Year in Shanghai. During that year, there was to be uninterrupted 24 hours of daily recitation of the Rosary in front of Our Lady of Fatima's Statue which toured all the parishes of Shanghai. The Holy Statue finally arrived at Christ the King Church where a major arrest of the priests had taken place only a month before. Bishop Kung visited that church and personally led the Rosary while the armed police looked on. At the end of the Rosary, leading the congregation, Bishop Kung prayed: "Holy Mother, we do not ask You for a miracle. We do not beg You to stop the persecutions. But we beg You to support us who are very weak."
Knowing that he and his priests would soon be arrested, Bishop Kung trained hundreds of Catechists to take over his diocese after his arrest. It was through the efforts and the martyrdom of these Catechists, and other brave faithful, together with the grace of God, that the Roman Catholic Church in China survived. Bishop Kung also ordered his dentist to pull out all his teeth and quit his 2-packs-a-day smoking habit shortly before he was sent to jail so that the Communists could not use his toothache problem or the agony of withdrawal symptoms to extract information from him.
In a New Year's greeting to their Bishop, the Catholic youth in Shanghai said: "Bishop, in darkness you light up our path. You guide us on our treacherous journey. You keep up our faith and the traditions of the Church. You are the foundation of our Church in Shanghai."
On September 8, 1955, Bishop Kung, along with over 200 priests and Church leaders, was arrested and sentenced five years later to life imprisonment.
The night before he was brought to trial, the chief prosecutor asked Bishop Kung once again to denounce the Holy Father and to cooperate with the Communist-created Patriotic Association's Church. His answer was: "I am a Roman Catholic Bishop. If I denounce the Holy Father, not only would I not be a Bishop, I would not even be a Catholic. You can cut off my head, but you can never take away my duties."
Bishop Kung vanished behind bars for 30 years. The world almost forgot him. In 1985, he was released from jail to serve another term of 10 years of house arrest under the custody of those Patriotic Association bishops who betrayed him and took over his diocese. In an article immediately after his release from jail, the New York Times said that the ambiguous wording of the Chinese news agency suggested that the authorities, not the bishop, might have relented. However, after he served two and one-half years of house arrest, he was officially released. His charge of being a counterrevolutionary was never exonerated. I went to China twice in order to escort him out of China to receive proper medical care in the United States. And he's still here.
When Pope John Paul II presented Cardinal Kung with his Red Hat in ceremonies on June 29, 1991, at the consistory in the Vatican, Bishop Kung raised himself up from the wheelchair, threw aside his cane and walked up the steps to kneel at the foot of the Pontiff. Visibly touched, the Holy Father lifted him up, gave him his Cardinal's hat, then stood patiently as Cardinal Kung returned to his wheelchair to the sounds of an unprecedented seven-minute standing ovation.
The story of Cardinal Kung is the story of a hero and of a faithful shepherd. When he received his honorary degree from the Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, CT, Cardinal Kung was characterized as a man who refused to renounce God and His Church despite dire personal consequences; a man who inspired millions of his countrymen to follow his example and preserve the Roman Catholic Church in a Communist country; a man who kept the faith even though confined in solitary cells for 30 years; a man who became a symbol for world leaders in their fight for human rights in all countries.
In his Mission magazine in 1957, Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote: "The West has its Mindszenty, but the East has its Kung. God is glorified in His saints."
The persecution of Roman Catholics is obviously not ancient history. The persecution continues and gets worse, at a time when China is making significant economic progress, and at a time when China is working towards becoming an important member of the international community. Why? To understand it, we must put these current events into perspective.
China turned Communist in 1949. Almost immediately, the new Communist government started putting pressure on the Catholic Church. By 1953, many Chinese priests and laypersons were arrested and dying in jail. Examples of these early martyrs only encouraged and reinforced the Catholic faith and fidelity. Failing to stamp out the Catholic Church, the Chinese government created, in 1957, its own church called the "Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association".
The objective of the Communists to create the Patriotic Association is to replace the Roman Catholic Church and to control the church entirely by the government. In doing so, they not only underestimated the power of the Holy Spirit, but also underestimated the power of the blood of the martyrs which is the seed of the Church. Instead of being destroyed, the population of the Roman Catholic Church in China increased from about 3 million in the early 1950s to about 9-10 million now.
No matter what the circumstances are, Roman Catholics cannot accept any other church as a substitute without abandoning their own faith and status as a Roman Catholic. These 9 million Roman Catholics in China, therefore, cannot keep their faith and at the same time follow their government's instruction to reject the Pope's supreme authority, even at the risk of persecution. By remaining loyal and obedient to the Pope, and by remaining fully in communion with the Holy Father and with the Universal Church, the Roman Catholic Church is outlawed in China and is known as the "unofficial" Church or the underground Church. In his speech on December 3, 1996, the Holy Father proudly proclaimed the underground Church as "a precious jewel of the Catholic Church".
As soon as the government-sponsored Patriotic Association was created in 1957, all properties of the Roman Catholic Church were confiscated. Later in the 1980s as China opened up, many of the churches and other properties were transferred not to the original owner, the Roman Catholic Church, but to the government-sponsored Patriotic Association. As a result, the Roman Catholic Church remains penniless, and without churches.
Many of you have been in China. Many of you may have been to the Cathedral in Shanghai, the Cathedral in Beijing, and other churches elsewhere. However, what you may not have realized was that you were not in a Roman Catholic Church. You were in a church belonging to the Patriotic Association. These churches look Catholic. The vestments are the same, so are the prayers and the hymns. But they are not Catholic. Why? Let me explain.
The most important article in the constitution of the Patriotic Association is its autonomy from the Pope. It does not recognize the supreme administrative, legislative, and judicial authority of the Pope. Theology 101 teaches us that no one can possibly claim communion with the Pope while simultaneously denying the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff. Therefore, the Patriotic Association is NOT in communion with the Pope. Communion with the Pope is a basic Catholic doctrine, not a discipline.
During the World Youth Day celebrated in Manila in January 1995, the Pope stated very clearly: A Catholic who wishes to remain as such and to be recognized as such cannot reject the principle of communion with the successor of Peter.
Without such communion, the Patriotic Association could not possibly be a Roman Catholic institution. Without such communion, the Patriotic Association could not possibly be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. In his speech on December 3, 1996, our Holy Father apparently referred to the Patriotic Association as "a church which does not respond either to the will of the Lord Jesus, nor to the Catholic faith."
In addition, the teaching of the Patriotic Association directly violates the teaching of the Catholic Church. For an example, in its pastoral letter on the dignity and responsibility of women, the bishops of the Patriotic Association openly advised women to implement "China's platform for the development of women." This platform includes birth control, sterilization, a one family - one child policy whereby women who are pregnant after having one child are forced by the Chinese government to abort their unborn babies, the second child. Such is the platform that the Patriotic Association bishops support in their own pastoral letter.
The bishops of the Patriotic Association are not appointed by the Holy See. They are appointed by the Chinese government and are consecrated without the approval of the Holy See. They are illegitimate. They could also be illicit if the bishops consecrating them are themselves illicit. Before assuming office, the new Patriotic Association bishop swears to observe its Constitution. As I mentioned before, their constitution contains a section on autonomy from the Holy See. During the consecration of the Patriotic Association bishops, communion with the Roman Pontiff is not even mentioned. Instead, they take an oath to uphold the principle of an autonomous church and to cut off all control from the Pope.
However, the Patriotic Association calls themselves "Catholic". Patriotic Association members introduce themselves as Catholic priests or Catholic bishops, without disclosing that they are members of the Patriotic Association, and without disclosing that they have no ties to the Vatican.
This deceptive terminology produced predictable results. Since then, numerous articles have appeared in the media, including our own diocesan newspapers, Catholic magazines, and Catholic radio about the "Catholic Church in China". These articles were, in fact, describing the Patriotic Association Church. Numerous tours to China have been organized by Roman Catholic institutions such as China Bureau headed by a Maryknoll nun. These tours were to visit the churches and seminaries of the "Catholic Church", but in fact they visited the Patriotic Association's facilities without even mentioning this fact. Many conferences have been sponsored by Roman Catholic institutions ostensibly for the "Catholic Church in China", but in effect are for the Patriotic Association's church. Along the way, the loyal underground Catholic Church and its persecutions by the Chinese Government were almost never mentioned. As a result, these articles, these tours and these seminars have badly deceived the public.
In the meantime, Patriotic Association priests and bishops, masquerading as bona fide Catholic clerics, traveled around the world and solicited donations. Misinformed Catholic institutions, many of them could indeed be well-intentioned, donated millions and millions to the Patriotic Association while the underground loyal Catholics were left with almost nothing. On the contrary, the loyal Bishops are not allowed to travel outside China to tell the world their plight. Even in China, their expression is prohibited. This is why the Cardinal Kung Foundation is here to tell the world the plight of the underground Church.
In order to receive those millions of dollars in donations from Roman Catholic institutions, the Patriotic Association's bishops must convince their overseas benefactors of their fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church. To do so, the Patriotic Association bishops, while overseas, never fail to publicly proclaim their "loyalty" to the Pope "in their hearts". However, these bishops are also officers of the Patriotic Association, and as officers they have the fundamental duty to defend the current constitution of these two organizations. The most important and basic article of these two constitutions which the Patriotic Association bishops vigorously defend is the autonomy of the Patriotic Association from the Pope.
In the Universal Church, according to section 678 of the Canon Law, all religious organizations working in a diocese must receive the approval from the Ordinary of that diocese. However, many missionaries, in recent years, returned to China and started various charitable projects. These foreign missionaries do not seek permission for their projects from the underground loyal Bishops who were appointed by the Holy Father. They do not work with the loyal Church. Instead, they work with the Communists' Patriotic Association.
A recent example is the opening of a new retreat center in Shanghai by the Patriotic Association on April 15 last year. This center has three stories with 51 rooms accommodating 102 persons. It costs U.S. $1.2 million. About one-third of its cost was donated by the Jesuits. The balance of approximately $800,000 was contributed by other foreign missionaries. In accordance with section 678 of the Canon Law, the Jesuits and other foreign missionaries should seek permission to build this retreat house from Ignatius Cardinal Kung who is the only legitimate Bishop of Shanghai, but they did not. Instead, they sought permission of the Patriotic Association's bishop of Shanghai. This project has to be viewed by the Patriotic Association Church as another sign of approval from the Free World.
It is very sad to note that the Roman Catholic missionaries of the Free World ignore their own brother bishops. Can you imagine some religious order carrying out an unauthorized project in a diocese of the Free World? It won't happen. If this unauthorized ministry could not happen in the Free World, why should it occur in China? Why then the double standards? Because, to these missionaries, approval of the Communist government appears to be more important than the approval of the Ordinary of the diocese. Because, to these missionaries, success of these so-called social projects appears to be more important than upholding a basic doctrine of faith. Because, to these missionaries, success of these projects appears to be more important than obeying Canon Law.
These foreign missionaries appear to be so misguided, and appear to be so naively overzealous in their search for "unity", and "reconciliation" with the Patriotic Association that they appear to have disregarded the fundamental Catholic dogma of "in communion with the Pope". To search for a "justification", it appears that these foreign missionaries regard any private indication of fidelity from a Patriotic Association clergy, no matter how dubious that indication is, as an "acceptable" proof of conversion, although our Holy Father demanded the strictest observance on communion with the successor of Peter in spite of the difficult political situation in China.
The Pope in his message to China on December 3, 1996, said: The Bishop must be the first witness of the faith which he professes and preaches, to the point of 'shedding his blood' as the apostles did and as so many other Pastors have done down the centuries, in many nations and also in China.
It is very sad to note that the invalid church called the Patriotic Association has been embraced by so many Roman Catholic religious and institutions at the expense of the blood of their own brothers and sisters in the underground Church.
Therefore, when you receive requests from these organizations for donations to support their projects in the "Chinese Catholic Church", please determine whether these projects are for the Patriotic Association Church or for the loyal Church. Then, you will have to make a decision which church you wish to support.
Table of Contents