An annual report published by a well-known Catholic organization criticized China as one of the worst violators against religious freedom, despite the Chinese government has repeatedly denied.
Aid to the Church in Need (CAN), a Catholic organization funding religious projects in 145 countries, released its annual report on religious freedom at a press conference June 27 in Rome, according to the U.S.-based Catholic News Service (CNS).
The 423-page report compiles information directly from the churches that CAN assists, news articles, official government documents and human rights organizations. The report suggests that China continues to suppress or restrict religious communities that have not received government approval.
Under the existing religious regulation in China, both protestant churches and Catholic churches are required to associate with the government-sanctioned organizations, namely the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) of Protestant Churches and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA). Unregistered religious groups were considered "illegal" and were subjected to restrictions, including intimidation, harassment, and detention.
With the new religious regulation that took effective on March 1, 2005, the Chinese government claimed to protect the rights of registered religious groups, under certain conditions, to possess property, publish literature, train and approve clergy, and collect donations.
Father Bernardo Cervellera, one of the panelists presenting the 2006 report, yet commented that the situation of freedom of religion in China was still "very ambiguous" and "contradictory", as quoted by CNS.
"While churches now have the right to own property, the state still tries to expropriate church property," he cited an example. He then added that many priests, bishops and religious are periodically beaten, detained or thrown in prisons, according to CNS. Three underground Catholic bishops have even "vanished" after police arrested them several years ago.
Cervellera further condemned the mistreatment and torture of the Chinese government on the detained Christians. He said China needs to complement its booming economic growth with respect for people, according to CNS. "Growth without a spiritual element" can only cause further suffering and conflict, he said.
In response to the report, the Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of China Jiang Yu's denied the accusation on the regular press conference on June 27. She commented the allegation "is not worthy of any comment."
"The Chinese Government lawfully protects citizens' freedom of religious belief. Various religions in China adopt a principle of self-reliance and independence in running churches. No foreign forces will be allowed to interfere with China's domestic religious affairs," Jiang argued.
According to the latest religious freedom report released by the U.S. Department of State, unofficial, Vatican-affiliated Catholic Church claims a membership larger than the 5 million persons registered with the official Catholic Church. Precise figures are impossible to determine, but Vatican officials have estimated that the country has as many as 10 million Catholics in both the official and unofficial churches. Chinese Catholic sources put the total number at approximately 8 million.