Chinese Catholic leaders from government-backed organization reject suggested reforms to church

Chinese Catholic leaders within a government-backed organization have rejected suggestions to downgrade the group's role to restore broken ties with the Vatican.

(REUTERS / Thomas Peter)Members of the congregation clean the unofficial catholic church after Sunday service in Majhuang village, Hebei Province, China, December 11, 2016.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong Cardinal John Tong Hon wrote a piece saying the Vatican was close to sealing a deal with Beijing in which Pope Francis would have power over the appointment of bishops in mainland China. In the same article, the cardinal suggested that the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association - a government-backed organization - should focus on social welfare and charity instead of nominating candidates for bishops.

In addition, the Hong Kong cardinal suggested that Chinese authorities should recognize the more than 30 bishops heading the underground Catholic churches in the country. However, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association's former vice-president Liu Bonian spoke up and rejected these suggestions.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Liu said the future of the Catholic Christians in China lies in the dialogue between Beijing and Vatican and not on Tong's opinion.

"It's a matter of [Tong's] own opinion," Liu told SCMP in an interview. "Whether Chinese will ordain their own bishops in future, it's up to future Sino-Vatican dialogue."

A priest from Guangzhou, who spoke under condition of anonymity, said these discussions are still premature. Yet another priest from a registered Catholic church said the suggestion to focus on social services is "one-sided."

A Catholic from Inner Mongolia voiced out her concern over the possibility that the Vatican might make a lot of compromises with China just to try mending the ties which were severed decades ago. She said she and her fellow believers are praying for those involved in the negotiations that they will follow God's will.

Meanwhile, China Aid has released a new report warning house churches of "unprecedented suppression." The persecution charity fears that believers in China will be affected negatively because of a looming shift in the government's policy.

China Aid says the Chinese government's revised Regulations on Religious Affairs will push more house churches to submit to the state and culture and to "mutually adapt with socialism." The organization also fears that the church-removal campaign in Zhejiang province could spread across the country.

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