02/17/2022 Washington, D.C.—Bishop James Su Zhimin is one of the many Catholic clergies in China who has refused to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), the Chinese government-sanctioned organization to manage Catholic clergy, doctrine, and practice. As a result of his refusal to compromise the faith for the agenda of the Chinese government’s propaganda apparatus, Bishop James Su Zhimin forcibly disappeared.
The now 89-year-old bishop was arrested in 1997 for refusing the state-sanctioned organization and was not seen again until appearing in a hospital in 2003. After leaving the hospital, he has not been seen again, and it is speculated by some that he has now passed away in Chinese custody. The story of Bishop Su Zhimin is one that is a familiar occurrence of persecution in China, as the pervasiveness of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association continues to impact Chinese Catholics.
The History of the Catholic Church and the CCP
Founded in 1957, the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) is one of the few religious organizations in China that is allowed to practice by the State Administration of Religious Affairs, a now sub-department under the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) propaganda and influence arm, the United Front Work Department (UFWD).
The organization was founded to supervise and regulate Chinese Catholics and prevent foreign influence in Chinese affairs by the Holy See and direct them through the Bishops’ Conference of the Catholic Church in China. Under this arrangement, the Chinese state has ordained bishops without the consent of the Vatican and has continued to harass and hamper those with papal consent alone or who are resistant to the government’s overreach. As a result, many Chinese priests have refused to submit to the CPA, creating an underground Catholic Church in China. These refusals were later bolstered when in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI deemed the CPA “incompatible with Catholic doctrine.“
“Likewise, the declared purpose of the afore-mentioned entities [Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association] to implement “the principles of independence and autonomy, self-management, and democratic administration of the Church” is incompatible with Catholic doctrine, which from the time of the ancient Creeds professes the Church to be “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.”
Excerpt of Benedict XVI’s Letter to Chinese Catholics, July 1, 2007
This forced fracture from the Holy See has been seen as a clear violation of the faith by many Catholic clergies in China. As a result of the CCP’s overreach, many in the Catholic Church have resisted the CPA and have suffered severe persecution as a result. This persecution of Chinese Catholics predates even Bishop Su Zhimin, as the CCP has attempted to compromise Chinese Catholics since its successful revolution in 1949.
Bishop Kung Pinmei
In 1955, Bishop Kung Pinmei served 30 years in Chinese prisons after being branded as a counter-revolutionary for challenging the effort to establish the Catholic Patriotic Association and its attempt to control the church.
Knowing the consequences of his actions, Bishop Kung refused to submit to the government and was sentenced to life in prison. For 30 years, Bishop Kung carried out his sentence faithfully until he was released on house arrest. After three more years, he was able to leave China to the U.S. and learn that he had secretly been made a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II. He continued to perform his duties as a Cardinal from the U.S. until his passing. Following Cardinal Kung’s example, many clergies have followed suit, keeping the underground church alive in China, even as the state grows more insidious each year.
“If we renounce our faith, we will disappear and there will not be a resurrection.
If we are faithful, we will still disappear, but there will be a resurrection.”
Bishop Ignatius Kung Pinmei – 1954
Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin
In July 2012, Father Thaddeus Ma Daqin was ordained as an Auxiliary Bishop in Shanghai, and like both Kung and Su before him, he too renounced the government’s attempt to regulate his duties in the Catholic church. During his ordination ceremony, the now Bishop publicly resigned from the CPA. Following this, he was quickly placed under house arrest at the Sheshan Regional Seminary.
Father Lu Danhua and Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin
In December 2018, Father Lu Danhua of Lishui and Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin were detained for illegally holding Mass. Father Lu, the only priest in a sparsely populated part of Zhejiang, and Bishop Shao were detained for 11 months. As the clergy was detained, Chinese officials intended to intimidate them and garner favor with their underground congregations to join the government-sanctioned church. However, many refused, as this would require them to submit to stringent censorship and deliver government propaganda.
In October 2021, Bishop Shao was picked up again by Chinese police for his refusal to comply with the state’s religious organizations, adding to the list of repeat arrests of Bishop Shao. The arrests are typically around minor infractions, used to hamper his duties as a Bishop. Unlike many of the clergy who came before, Bishop Shao was released in November and has returned to his diocese for now.
The underground Catholic Church vs the CCP
This expansion of the CPA continues to target non-aligned Catholics and alienate them from the Vatican. The new regulations on clergy which prevent the use of international digital content will continue to drive a wedge between the Holy See in Rome and China’s underground Catholic Church. As China’s government pretends its agencies act to support the practice of faith in China, pray for those who are persecuted for their fight for the sanctity of their faith.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18
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This story is part of ICC’s series Shackled to the Podium, a series where we remember those who have suffered or are currently suffering persecution by the Chinese Communist Party on account of their faith. This series will populate daily for the duration of the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Click here to read more about the project.
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