Institutions Politics

China to Pope Francis: Don’t ‘interfere’ with religion

Catholic Church of the Saviour, also called Xishiku Church or Beitang, in the Xicheng District in Beijing, China.

VATICAN CITY (RNS) China has reacted cautiously to a bid by Pope Francis to open new dialogue with Beijing, with some officials quick to warn the Vatican not to “interfere” with the country’s religion.

Catholic Church of the Saviour, also called Xishiku Church or Beitang, in the Xicheng District in Beijing, China.

Photo courtesy of Fotokon via Shutterstock

Catholic Church of the Saviour, also called Xishiku Church or Beitang, in the Xicheng District in Beijing, China.

On his return flight from a five-day tour of South Korea, Francis said he was ready to go to China — “For sure! Tomorrow!” — after receiving a positive response to two goodwill telegrams he sent to President Xi Jinping as the pope flew over Chinese airspace.

“We respect the Chinese people,” Francis told journalists on the return flight Monday (Aug. 18). “The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work.”

That is still a huge challenge, as the Vatican has not had diplomatic relations with China since 1951. The Catholic Church in China is divided between an “official” church known as the Catholic Patriotic Association, answerable to the Communist Party, and an underground church that swears allegiance to Rome.

The state-run Catholic Patriotic Association was quick to respond to the pope’s overtures for greater dialogue, albeit with a warning.

“China will always safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity and it never allows foreign forces to interfere with religion. The Vatican should respect China in terms of the personnel of a diocese,” Liu Yuanlong, vice president of the association, told the state-run Global Times in a report also published in English.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is unhappy with the Vatican’s diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, while the Vatican is unhappy with Beijing’s strict control of religious institutions, particularly the appointment of bishops.

Zhuo Xinping, director of the Institute of World Religions at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told another state-run outlet, China Daily, that he welcomed the pope’s move, saying Francis had been active in improving Vatican ties with Beijing since he was elected in March 2013.

Zhuo described the 77-year-old Argentine pontiff as “a friend of developing economies” with “special feelings” for people in those countries due to his Latin American origins.


About the author

Josephine McKenna

Josephine McKenna has more than 30 years' experience in print, broadcast and interactive media. Based in Rome since 2007, she covered the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis and canonizations of their predecessors. Now she covers all things Vatican for RNS.


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  • “The church only asks for liberty for its task, for its work.” – Pope Francis

    Really? GOOD GRIEF!

    “Knock knock”
    who’s there?
    What do you want?
    “Let me in”
    “I want to save you from the bad things I’ll do to you if you don’t let me in”

    Christianity is dangerous nonsense.
    Of course China wants nothing to do with it.

  • And Pope Francis shouldn’t interfere with religion in China–but the Chinese civil government needs to clean up its long, filthy act and remove its nose from the religion of the people in China. Religion is private. It should be respected as private–as long as no one is invading anyone else’s rights with their religious activity. It should not be pushed about among any people, including, first of all, by any state with its people.

    Our Bill of Rights was every bit as important as our basic Constitution itself. Some of those rights have been badly distorted, like the claims by the National Rifle Association and its gun slingers that the Second Amendment defends their attempts to turn this country into a Home on the Ugly, Murderous Range.

    The very first clause of the very First Amendment, constitutionally demanding a separation of church and state, religion and government, was placed at the head of the list because the Framers were only too familiar with the evils that always resulted when religion and government are mixed. They knew their history very well.

    We see it as the basis of all the awful problems that have ravaged the Middle East for many years, Jews against Islamists, Islamists against Jews, Islamists against Islamists as we are now witnessing AGAIN in Iraq. We see it in our own country as some religious groups have invaded the Republican Party and attempt to inflict their religious beliefs as laws for this nation.

    Freedom of religion is two-sided. Everyone’s natural right to hold religious beliefs and practice religion–as long as it does not invade the rights of others–is one side. The other equally valid and vital side is freedom from religion if that is the decision and choice of anyone.

  • The Chinese civil government should come to realize that there is no such thing as a “country’s religion” if the true meaning of religion and freedom and respect for all people, is observed. Individuals hold religious beliefs–or don’t hold them–not nations.

    The remnant of communism that still prevents genuine freedom in China is the notion that the government should be allowed to have anything to do with individual rights like religion. We have seen enough problems in our own country when our Constitution is violated for often in that respect.

    It must be asked if the Catholic Church isn’t guilty of the same contradictions of enforcement regarding religion when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Vatican Curia attempts to quash the religious freedom of nuns in the United States with its dictation as to how they should be religious. Aren’t catechisms dictating religion when people are expected to live by the questions and answers in those catalogs? Isn’t that a form of government?

    In our country, the First Amendment is steadily violated regarding religion. The Second Amendment has been made non-existent by the National Rifle Association promoting daily slaughter on our streets with guns under the false claim that such gun slingers form any kind of “well regulated militia.”

    It is a monumental threat to our freedom, to any claim that we are a democracy, when our Constitution and laws are violated so randomly. It is just as evil a violation of our rights as having one part of our Legislative Branch, the House of Representatives, do absolutely nothing. They are paid great money and cost other great expenses for doing nothing.

    But who’s to blame? The voters. They elect these do-nothing legislators who violate our Constitution.

  • Good ideas–except. China does want something to do with religion when its civil government dictates things religious and the human right of religious freedom must be practiced underground.

    Governments must kept their hands off religion. History teaches the vile results of interfering. And freedom from religion must be respected.

    Churches must do a better job of practicing freedom by not attempting to dictate dogma and by ending efforts to do so by their wicked practice of excommunication. There’s nothing “free” about religion under those circumstances.

  • Earold D Gunter to Pope Francis: Don’t “interfere” with my life.

    It would be great if you would keep your idiotic beliefs from having any impact on my life, and then I would leave you alone to quietly enjoy your delusion.

    However, that will simply not work for you, will it?

    It is the very nature of your delusion that you are mandated by it to poison the lives of everyone you can with it.

    China and you have the same goal; controlling humans. It is hypocritical of you to ask them not to try to do so, while you’re trying to do so.

    Religion is truly poison!

  • Are you serious? If you were to write a high school social studies essay based on this premise you would surely flunk. The Catholic church forces its views on people about as much as NPR does. Catholics want the freedom to share their beliefs with other people (in theory, anyway — they are not particularly evangelistic) just as you want to communicate your “religion is poison” message.

    I am no friend of the Catholic church, but I know a big crock of hogwash when I see it.

  • @Theophilus,

    “The Catholic church forces its views on people about as much as NPR does.”

    Ignorant nonsense. You should listen to NPR instead of using it for an argument.

    If one doesn’t believe in Jesus
    what are they likely to be told? Hmmmm?

    Scott Kaufman – Wednesday, August 20, 2014
    The Raw Story

    “The county commission in Brevard County, Florida, voted unanimously on Wednesday to prohibit atheists from offering invocations at public meetings…

    “The commissioners voted to send a letter to David Williamson, founder of the Central Florida Freethought Community, indicating that his group doesn’t qualify to deliver the invocation because it is defined as “an opening prayer, presented by members of our faith community.”

    “The prayer is delivered during the ceremonial portion of the county’s meeting, and typically invokes guidance for the County Commission from the highest spiritual authority, a higher authority which a substantial body of Brevard constituents believe to exist,” the letter reads.
    “The invocation is also meant to lend gravity to the occasion, to reflect values long part of the county’s heritage, and to acknowledge the place religion holds in the lives of many private citizens in Brevard County.”

    I’ve had it up to here with ‘Christian privilege’
    Next you’ll tell me that Jim Crow laws were fair!

  • And next you’ll be complaining that the Pasadena Rose Bowl committee doesn’t allow young men dressed in drag to be the Rose Bowl Queen. There are still a few remnants left of the Judeo-Christian tradition left in American public life.

  • Good brief, Max. I’m an atheist (agnostic really), but your illogical comments make us all look bad. Where do I begin.

    First, China wants nothing to do with Christianity? Really, which is why they set up their own state controlled churches. They are perfectly happy with Christianity and religion there, as long as they control it.

    Second, is China really the shining example of a modern, moral secular society that shuns those backwards religious people you want to use as your example? Really? China is the shining example of a fair, just society you want to set up as an example?

    Third, the reason you oppose religion is because people think that it’s teaching will help people and “save them from the bad things” they will do. Do you also criticize dietitians, doctors, counselors, etc., all of whom who try to help people live better, more productive lives and “save them from the bad things they will do.” When did we get this obnoxious idea that if I want to do it, it must be good for me, and anyone trying to help me live a better life is bigoted. Stupid.

    The reason to oppose Christianity is not any of those dumb reasons you mentioned, it is because it isn’t true. And, it’s not because Christians want to tell people who to live their lives (and doing that is always bad), it’s only when the things Christians tell them don’t actually help them lead a better life.

    Stop making us Atheists look like illogical idiots, dude.

  • “Stop making us Atheists look like illogical idiots, dude.”

    I don’t care what Atheists ‘look like.’
    But I am an excellent example of a skeptic.
    Atheism means “I do not believe in a God” it also means I have no regard for faith-based philosophies.

    If you have faith that mermaids exist I will challenge that claim until you either provide evidence or abandon the nonsense.

    1. Communist China is a Faith-based Organization. It is not Atheism.
    The US Constitution with the Establishment Clause (Congress shall make no law endorsing a religion) DISPENSES WITH FAITH as part of the rule of law and is therefore Atheistic.

    2. Christianity is immoral and insidiously dangerous and people who proselytize (in China and elsewhere) are creating disasters not solutions.
    To argue against evil preaching is not to defend anything about China’s system!

    3. Religion is DESTRUCTIVE. Not constructive. You are being foolish to conflate the fine works of ‘doctors, counselors, nurses etc’ into anything remotely as cancerous as religion: “EXECUTE THEM IN FRONT OF ME” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)
    How dare you call religion ‘helpful’? Or put it on the same level as the heroic doctors and nurses who are truly trying to help people!?
    Religion is despicable and runs against every good thing modern civilization has tried to produce.

    4. Christians promote the worst ideas in human history:
    Vicarious redemption is the granting permission to any and all evil actions.
    Concept of Hell is the most destructive idea on free thinking ever invented.
    The 10 Commandments are mostly destructive to civilization.

    I hate religion because it is a whirlwind of nonsense and destruction.
    It has no place in modern life.

    It needs to be abandoned en masse (Not outlawed).
    Everyone needs to grow up and leave this garbage in the trash heap:

    “Slay the infidel wherever you find them” – (Surah) Quran

  • The Catholic Church in China appears to be doing better than it has in years. I go to China regularly on business and attend service every Sunday. Services are almost always full and the level of participation is heart warming. Although I don’t speak Mandarin I’m always warmly welcomed by the churchgoers and its a joy to be there.

  • The Catholic Cathedrals in Shanghai, Beijng and Xian are certainly worth seeing and attending service at. They warmly welcome westerners with their kindness and generosity. All were built by devoted Jesuits who are not only great educators but obviously good students of classical architecture. I saw no signs of hostility from any governmental authorities – quite the opposite.