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China tightening its grip on Catholics

China expert and former director of the Vatican's Fides missionary agency Fr Bernardo Cervellera, has said that three recent official documents formalise stricter control over the lives of Chinese Catholics.

In an article in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, Fr Cervellera said the documents aim to consolidate the role of the Government-controlled "Patriotic" Catholic Church, which does not follow Rome.

The directives, which have been in force in Beijing and Hebei, will be applied on a national scale. They were approved at the end of March, amid the SARS epidemic.

Ye Xiaowen, director of the state Office for Religious Affairs, justified the three documents by saying that they "filled the void" in the "democratic" management of the Church. They stress "independence, autonomy and self-management," the Communist aide said.

He says the texts are not in fact presented as government mandates, but as self-management regulations adopted by entities recognised by the state.

Excerpts from the documents quoted by Fr Cervellera reveal that they impose a "democratic" concept of the Church, "which runs the risk of destroying the apostolic and sacramental dimension of the Catholic faith, with the risk of reducing the Church in China to the rank of a sect."


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