Why the Catholic Church must stand for religious freedom in China

September 23, 2020 by Ryan Hamm in Asia

Two years ago, the Vatican—the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church, which claims over 1 billion members—signed an agreement with the Chinese government that changed the situation for the Catholic Church in China. For many years, there were two “versions” of Catholicism in China. There was one set of churches that was loyal to the Chinese government, but not recognized by the Vatican (and the larger Catholic community) as truly Catholic.


The second set of churches operated outside of the legal parameters set up by the government, and were loyal to the Vatican and the broader, global Catholic Church. These churches have often endured persecution from the Chinese government, which rules a country ranked No. 23 on the 2020 World Watch List.

The 2018 agreement specified new relationships between the Chinese government and the Vatican. While the specifics of the agreement haven’t been made public, there is consensus that it gives the Chinese government a say in the appointment of church leaders—like bishops—in the Chinese Catholic Church.

The agreement was sort of a “test case,” meaning it’s still a provisional agreement that must periodically be renewed. And now, that time for renewal has come, in the midst of China’s actions in Hong Kong and its ongoing persecution of religious minorities—Christians, Buddhists, Muslims and Falun Gong alike—which have led to renewed accusations of human rights abuses. In fact, earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo even urged the Vatican to take a strong stand for religious freedom.

Open Doors has long been vocal in pointing out the dangerous implications of China’s intolerance of religious liberty. Today, David Curry, CEO of Open Doors USA, said:

“We’re thankful the U.S. State Department continues to take a stand on religious freedom. Together we urge the Vatican to stand firm against the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to submit the church to the state’s control.

“The Chinese government is suppressing religious thought and practice by coercing churches to submit to state monitoring and surveillance. Unofficial churches live in constant fear of arrests and government raids. As a result, church members are forced to choose between practicing their faith secretly in isolation or risking their rights and livelihoods to worship publicly.

“I believe it’s critical to urge the Chinese Communist Party to articulate a plan to ensure the human rights of religious minorities are upheld.”

In a January 2020 press conference, Curry said China is creating a “blueprint of persecution” for dictators around the world. The Chinese government exerts control over religious groups through a policy of “Sinicization,” pressuring people of faith to fall in line with Party ideology.

Please join us in prayer for Christians in China and the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church:

  • Pray God would give Catholic leaders a spirit of boldness, to speak the truth in love to Chinese officials as they talk about renewing this agreement.
  • Pray for Christians in China who are watched and monitored, that they would have courage and strength to stand for Him even when it’s difficult and risky.
  • Pray for the Chinese government, that they would allow Christians and other religious minorities the freedom to worship freely, and that they would see the truth of Jesus in their own lives.
  • Pray for church unity in China, that churches would support each other and bear each others’ burdens and live in unity, whether unregistered or registered.