(Zhejiang province) Catholic Bishop Yang Xiaoming from the Wenzhou Diocese in Zhejiang, China, was convicted of “fraud” because he refused to join the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association. It is uncommon for Catholic clergy to be punished under the charge of “impersonating religious personnel.”
Punished for refusing
Sources in China told AsiaNews, Fr. Yang Xiaoming (baptismal name Joseph), was brought to court, convicted, and subjected to administrative penalties because of his refusal to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
This is a matter of conscience. The acts of the government constitute the coercion of citizens’ faith, infringing on human rights.
According to AsiaNews, Fr. Joseph Yang Xiaoming was born on November 22, 1989, in Longwan District, Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Province. On December 18, 2020, Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin ordained him as a priest. Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin, who is recognized by the Vatican, was arrested multiple times and subjected to surveillance because of his refusal to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.
On May 11, 2021, just a few months after Fr. Joseph Yang Xiaoming’s ordination, the Religious Affairs Office of Longwan District in Wenzhou started proceedings against Fr. Yang, solely because he did not register with the government’s religious affairs department and other Communist Party-controlled organizations.
Fr. Yang Xiaoming was charged, tried and convicted of “carrying out religious activities under the guise of a religious personnel or obtaining money by fraud and other illegal activities.”
He was subjected to administrative penalties, including “ordering the cessation of his [priestly] activities, the confiscation of illegal proceeds of 28,473.33 RMB (~$3,880), and imposition of a fine of 1,526.67 RMB (approximately 210 USD).”
The report stated that Fr. Yang appealed the penalties by the religious affairs department, challenging the local government’s actions as legally unjust and a violation of the Canon Law. His accusation of “impersonating” a priest was legally incorrect because he was ordained by Bishop Peter Shao Zhumin.
Fr. Yang was in possession of a certificate of ordination. The Religious Affairs Bureau of Longwan District and local government acknowledged the authenticity of the document in court. Therefore, they acknowledged that Fr. Yang had been ordained in accordance with rules of the Catholic church.
Political and religious persecution
Sources in China reported the case to Asia News, stating “The acquisition of qualifications for religious personnel should be an internal affair of each religious community, which enjoys full freedom in this regard. Under the modern international principle of separation of church and state, the government should not intervene in the internal affairs of religions.”
“This is actual political persecution and a blatant violation of religious freedom and international conventions,” they added. “We call on those concerned for human rights and religious freedom to pray for the Church in China in her suffering, and ask the Lord to care and help us.”
China and the Vatican signed a provisional agreement on bishop appointments on September 22, 2018. This agreement recognized the Pope’s ultimate authority in the appointment of bishops in China. The Chinese government acknowledged all bishops, including those in the official church, recognizing the authority of the Vatican and the Pope.
Gray Area for local governments
The diocesan bishops have the authority to appoint priests. The Religious Affairs offfice in Longwan District, Wenzhou, lacks basic religious knowledge. Denying the status of a priest appointed by a bishop and labeling him as someone who is “impersonating religious personnel” goes against the principle of separation of church and state. This action contradicts the usual gray area approach taken by local governments.
Choice to join Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association
Whether Catholics join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association or not should be a matter of voluntary choice by religious citizens. Convicting someone for refusing to join the Patriotic Association constitutes a severe violation of government interference in the internal affairs of religion and religious autonomy. The government has no authority to determine whether a religious personnel is recognized or not recognized by any religion, let alone deciding who is qualified to fulfill religious duties by allowing or disallowing them to do so. Claims by government authorities that they have the right to decide who is a legitimate priest or who is qualified to be a priest are unconstitutional and a blatant infringement on religious freedom.
~Gao Zhensai, Special Correspondent of ChinaAid