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Theological Notebook: A Promising Sign for the Chinese Church

Government agrees to return property to Catholic Church in China

By Catholic News Service

TAIYUAN, China (CNS) -- After a long church property dispute in Tianjin, in northern China, the local government has validated the church's claim to the property and agreed to return it.

Tianjin's deputy mayor met five priests from Shanxi province Dec. 24 and told them his municipal government had verified that information the church presented to back its claim "basically matches" the government records, said Father Anthony Han Huide, procurator of Taiyuan Diocese, Dec. 29.

Father Han told UCA News, an Asian church news agency based in Thailand, that the deputy mayor promised to settle the property problem as soon as possible and in accordance with the religious policies of the central government.

The official also handed over the key of the house to the priests and told them they "could come back to visit and stay there," Father Han said.

Father Han said the deputy mayor asked them to first return to Shanxi province and give the government time to prepare documents.

Father Han said, however, that "no date and details were given."

Various dioceses and religious congregations bought some 1,200 properties in Tianjin decades before the Communist Party took control of China in 1949. The dioceses of Taiyuan and Yuci bought the properties to generate rental income to support the church.

On Dec. 15, close to 50 priests, nuns and lay people from the two dioceses went to Tianjin and occupied the three-story building that was in dispute, insisting it belonged to the church. About 30 assailants attacked the group the next day. Seven were badly beaten, with some requiring hospitalization.

The last group of priests, nuns and lay people left Tianjin by train Christmas Eve. The others left Dec. 22.

Father Han said two priests will be sent to Tianjin again in early January to follow up the case with the government until the house and the other properties are returned to the two dioceses.

A notice regarding religious properties was posted Dec. 22 on the Tianjin government Web site ordering all Tianjin government bureaus and departments to suspend the dismantling or removal of religious properties.

Many church-owned properties were confiscated by the state during China's 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, but since the 1980s the Chinese government's religious policies have allowed local government officials to return or negotiate the return of church properties.

China has an underground church, which has been in existence since the 1950s, when the country tried to force Catholics and other Christians to join government-approved "patriotic associations." Although the government-approved church officially spurns ties with the Vatican, church sources say up to 85 percent of the government-approved bishops have reconciled with the Vatican. In many sections of China there is some mingling of the two churches.
Tags: political, theological notebook
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