Catholic experts warned that new rules on religion in China could severely hamper the Church’s work by curbing its foreign contacts and imposing heavy penalties for unauthorised activity.
“Compared with previous drafts, these regulations are more restrictive, since they include references to national security,” said Anthony Lam, executive secretary of the Holy Spirit Study Centre of Hong Kong’s Catholic diocese.
“They may not make a great difference for China’s underground Catholic Church, since it’s illegal anyway. But they’ll have a great impact on the Church’s open community, which has to report everything to the government.”
China’s government was set to approve the draft regulations and implement them on 7th October. The 74-article text, published on 8th September by China’s State Council for Legislative Affairs, tightens control over foreign clergy and religious material on the internet and imposes fines of up to 200,000 yuan (£23502) for “illegal religious activities,” such as unauthorised pilgrimages. The new regulations state that “citizens enjoy religious freedom” in China and that “no organisation can discriminate against citizens who believe in a religion.”
Lam told Catholic News Service that the draft was much more extensive than existing rules, implemented in 2005, and reflected attempts by China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs to “enlarge its power over religions.”
Picture: People pray during a 2013 Mass in Qingdao, China. Catholic experts have warned that new rules on religion in China could severely hamper the Church’s work. (CNS photo/Wu Hong, EPA).