Selection of bishops doesn’t breach religious rights: China

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Beijing, April 3: The right to appoint high priests in China should remain with the government, a Chinese official said today, stressing that not giving Pope the control over their appointment does not infringe on the religious freedom of the believers.
The official also said that Beijing has made real efforts to strike a “historic” accord on the appointment of bishops to end seven decades of rift with the Vatican.
The government today released a white paper “China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief”, outlining its stand on religion in Communist China.
Releasing the document, vice-administrator of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, Chen Zongrong told reporters that China’s religious groups cannot be controlled by “foreign forces”, and Beijing should retain the right to appoint high priests.
According to the Chinese Constitution, religious bodies and religious affairs are not subject to any foreign control, the official said.
“China has made real efforts towards establishing relations with the Holy See to end the 71 years of rift, but the talks reportedly broke down over the appointment of bishops,” Chen said.
Catholics in China are split between those who attend officially sanctioned churches run by government-approved bishops and those which are loyal to the Vatican, but are technically illegal “underground”.
Last month, the state-run ‘Global Times’ had reported that a deal between China and the Vatican could be signed soon as the negotiations have reached “the final stages”.
But, the Vatican quickly denied as the news spurred criticism that Pope was giving away too much after resisting China’s pressure since relations were severed 1951.
“Not giving ‘complete control’ to Pope to appoint top Catholic priests need not necessarily amount to breach of religious rights,” he said, adding that Church has been exploited by “colonialists and imperialists” to subvert its independence and progress.
The ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) wants that its nearly 90 million members remain atheists, apprehending that foreign religions, specially Christianity, may subvert its rule like in the case of Poland, where a movement by the Church was instrumental in overthrowing the Communist rule.
In China, Christianity is regarded as the fastest growing religion, with unofficial estimates putting the number of followers to 90 million. But, the Vatican is anxious over the rapid spread of Protestantism.
Buddhism, which came from India, however, remained a majority religion in China.
According to the white paper, the Chinese government supports all religions in upholding the principle of independence and self-management.
“This principle is a historic choice made by Chinese religious believers in the Chinese people’s struggle for national independence and social progress, as Catholicism and Protestantism, which were known as foreign religions in China, had long been controlled and utilised by colonialists and imperialists,” it said.
China has 200 million believers, including 20 million Muslims, 38 million Protestants and six million Catholics.The major religions practised in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism.
Also, there are about 5,500 religious groups in China, including seven national organisations, and about 1,44,000 places of worship registered for religious activities, including 33,500 Buddhist temples of different schools, 9,000 Taoist temples, 35,000 Islamic mosques, 6,000 Catholic churches and places of assembly spread across 98 dioceses, and 60,000 Protestant churches and places of assembly, it said.
All normal religious activities, which believers conduct at places of worship or in their own homes, are protected by law, and no organisation or individual may infringe on these rights, the paper said.
There are around 2,22,000 Buddhist clerics and over 40,000 of Taoism, 57,000 Muslims clerics, and 8,000 Catholic and 57,000 Protestants priests, it said. (PTI)