China launches five-year plan to eliminate 'foreign influence' from Catholic Church

Members of the congregation clean the unofficial catholic church after Sunday service in Majhuang village, Hebei Province, China, December 11, 2016. Picture taken December 11, 2016. | Reuters/Thomas Peter

Two official Catholic bodies in China have launched a plan to eliminate "foreign influence" from the Catholic Church and ensure that all religious activities fall under the control of the Communist Party.

According to Asia News, the "Five-Year Plan of Development for the Sinicization of the Catholic Church in China" was approved by the Patriotic Association of Chinese Catholics and the Council of Bishops during the Fourth Joint Meeting last week.

During the event, Yu Bo, vice director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, explained the objective of the meeting.

"The 4th coalition meeting is to implement deeper the spirit of the Ninteenh National Congress of the Communist Party in October 2017 and the spirit of the National Conference on Religious Work in April 2016, and to focus on the deliberations of a five-year plan to advance sinicization of the China Catholic Church," Yu said, as reported by Asia News.

The proposal to "sinicize" the Catholic Church was first discussed in 2015 during the meeting of the United Front, a body that has been tasked with imposing state control on religions and other aspects of Chinese society.

President Xi Jinping, who took part in the 2015 meeting, has called for the elimination of outside influences on religion in his address to the United Front.

Part of the plan was aimed at making the Catholic Church independent from "foreign influence," which reportedly implies that ordination of the clergy would take place without input from the Holy See.

The details of a plan were revealed in a news report from "Minzu Bao," the official journal that focuses on religious and ethnic issues, according to Asia News.

The news report indicated that the five-year plan will be implemented through five aspects, which include taking "unified action to link up the development" of the Church, "understanding the history of the church," driving theological research and emphasizing evangelism and pastoral work.

The plan also involves altering the Church's architecture, arts and liturgy so that it would be more compatible with Chinese ideals.

Asia News reported that the ecclesial sources in China have suggested that Beijing and the Vatican will be meeting next week for a new round of negotiations regarding the process of the ordination of bishops.

There have been speculations that another meeting will take place in late June for the signing of an agreement between the two parties if there are no disputes in the early June meeting.

In an interview with the South China Morning Post last May, Archbishop John Hung Shan-chuan said that Pope Francis has told him that Catholic principles would not be compromised in the negotiations and that the authority to appoint bishops will remain with the Vatican.