SHANGHAI (CNS) – Priests and nuns in the Shanghai Diocese were forced to attend compulsory “study classes,” which observers believe were imposed by Chinese authorities in response to the new Shanghai auxiliary’s renunciation of the Catholic Patriotic Association.
In September, approximately 80 diocesan priests and 80 nuns of the Our Lady of Presentation Congregation were divided into three groups to take three days of classes at the Shanghai Institute of Socialism, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News. Classes lasted 12 hours each day and included university professors lecturing about strengthening the sense of duty toward China, the law, and the independent church principle, UCA News reported.
The main subjects included state-religion relations, the Communist Party’s religious concepts, policies and regulations, the socialist core value system and economic development in China, it said.
A priest who asked that his name not be used told UCA News that all priests and nuns obeyed directives given by the diocese, so the classes ran smoothly. Religious officials at the city and district levels sat in throughout the classes, he said.
Auxiliary Bishop Thaddeus Ma Daqin, 45, quit the government-approved Catholic Patriotic Association at his ordination July 7. Since then, he has been on “retreat” at the Sheshan Seminary with a “certain degree of freedom,” sources told UCA News.
The priest told UCA News that he thought government officials would criticize Bishop Ma’s episcopal ordination during the classes, but they did not.
“Anyhow, it is understood that the so-called study classes were to counter the ordination,” the priest said.
“The classes were very strict. No one was allowed to miss them. We had to take an exam on religious regulations and policies and write an account on what we learned at the end,” he said.
Other church sources told UCA News they believe the Shanghai government organized the study classes for a variety of reasons: brainwashing priests and nuns, venting officials’ anger, and doing something to appease Chinese officials at the national level.
In late August, the diocese suspended fall semesters at its major and minor seminaries.
Bishop Ma is the first government-approved bishop in recent years to announce publicly that he would give up his duties with the Catholic Patriotic Association, UCA News reported.
Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 letter to Catholics in China stated that the aim of the patriotic association in upholding the independence of the church in China was incompatible with Catholic doctrine. However, in his letter, the pope also recognized the difficult situation of bishops and priests under pressure from the government and said the Holy See “leaves the decision to the individual bishop,” having consulted his priests, “to weigh … and to evaluate the possible consequences” of dealing with government pressures in each given situation.