Signs of the Times

Chinese Documents Detail Crackdown on Religion

Seven top-secret Chinese documents detailing government plans to crack down on religion were smuggled out of China and published on Feb. 11. The government documents, issued between April 1999 and October 2001, detail the goals and actions of China’s national, provincial and local security officials in repressing religion. According to an analysis of the documents by Freedom House, they provide irrefutable evidence that China’s government, at the highest levels, aims to repress religious expression outside its control and is using more determined, systematic and harsher criminal penalties in this effort. Fourteen religious groups are listed as evil cults.

The documents are available online at: These documents provide irrefutable evidence that China remains determined to eradicate all religion it cannot control, using extreme tactics, said Nina Shea, of Freedom House. Normal religious activity is criminalized, she said. President Bush, who has repeatedly voiced concern for religious oppression in China, must speak out forcefully and publicly in support of religious freedom during his state visit to China next week (Feb. 24-22).


The documents express concern about public unrest over China’s entry into the W.T.O. and tie this unrest to Western support of democracy movements, and religious groups. They accuse the Vatican of still waiting for any opportunity to...draw the patriotic religious believers up to them and incite them to rebel.

Measures to be taken against the banned religious groups include surveillance, the deployment of special undercover agents, the gathering of criminal evidence, complete demolition of a group’s organizational system, interrogation and arrest, as well as the confiscation of church property. One document repeatedly refers to the use of secret agents to infiltrate cults, underground Catholics, businesses, joint ventures, people with complicated political backgrounds, prestigious colleges and universities and other organizations.

Catholic Charities USA Allocates $20 Million for Sept. 11 Efforts

Catholic Charities USA has allocated more than $20 million to 16 agencies that are responding to the immediate and long-term needs of families affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Some of the programs supported by the latest round of grants include: counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder; emergency financial assistance to help with rent or mortgages, utilities and medical bills; job placement for those who have lost their jobs as a result of the terrorist attacks; legal aid; and outreach to immigrant populations.

Renovated Milwaukee Cathedral Is Dedicated and Reopened

Presiding over what he called one of the church’s biggest ceremonies, Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B., of Milwaukee dedicated the renovated Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist on Feb. 9. The congregation of 950 gave a standing ovation to the archbishop at the start of the two-and-a-half-hour liturgy. The only dissonant note came from a small group of local Catholics who had bitterly fought the $4.5 million renovation, even taking their case to the Vatican. About 20 of them demonstrated with protest signs outside the cathedral before and after the dedication.

Zimbabwe’s Jesuits Offer Sanctuary From Violence

Jesuits working in Zimbabwe promised to turn their churches into safe havens to offer sanctuary to anyone trying to escape the mounting political violence in the country. They also approved a statement condemning the state-sponsored violence in the run-up to Zimbabwe’s presidential elections in March, reported a London-based newspaper, The Catholic Herald. The statement attacks the government’s political indoctrination and manipulation of Zimbabwe’s youth and warns of civil war. In the March 9-10 election, Robert Mugabe, a Catholic who has ruled Zimbabwe since it won independence from Britain in 1980, is running for re-election.

Meanwhile, the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, at the request of Zimbabwe’s bishops, is keeping silent amid calls for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step aside in the March elections. The S.A.C.B.C., which includes bishops of Swaziland, Botswana and South Africa, will not comment on a situation in another country against the wishes of that country’s bishops, said Auxiliary Bishop Reginald Cawcutt of Cape Town, conference spokesman.

Russian Orthodox Ask Vatican Official to Cancel Moscow Visit

Protesting the Vatican’s establishment of four dioceses in Russia, the Russian Orthodox Church has asked the Vatican’s top ecumenist to cancel his scheduled visit to Moscow. Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, was scheduled to travel to Moscow Feb. 21-22 for meetings with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexei II and other top officials. The Vatican defended the creation of the dioceses as a normal administrative act and answered Orthodox criticism in a bluntly worded statement, saying the church has the right to care for all its memberseven in mostly Orthodox countries.

President’s Budget Includes Tuition Tax Credit Option

President Bush’s 2003 budget proposes that parents with children in failing schools receive a refundable education tax credits to pay their child’s tuition at a private school or for costs of transferring their child to a public school in another district. Under the proposal, $2,500 would be available for parents to use for either tuition or other educational costs such as tutoring, books, home computers and special-needs services. Because the tax credit would be refundable, low-income parents who do not pay taxes would still receive the full benefit.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that about 4.5 million students are currently enrolled in schools that fail to meet state standards. If approved by Congress, parents whose children attend schools that are not making adequate yearly progress under the recently signed No Child Left Behind Act would be able to take a tax credit for expenses incurred during the 2002-03 school year. The Bush administration estimates the education tax credit will cost $3.5 billion over the next five years. Last year, Mr. Bush dropped vouchers from his education plan when it experienced strong opposition from public school teachers’ unions and Democrats in Congress.

Indian Students Monitor Atrocities Against Women

A convention on violence against women that a Jesuit college in southern India organized has spurred students to set up a program to monitor atrocities against women. More than 180 students from 15 colleges in Bangalore city attended the convention organized by St. Joseph’s Evening College in collaboration with the Women’s Development Corporation of Karnataka state and some women’s groups, reported UCA News. The meeting made us bolder in voicing our disgust against offenders even if they are our own family members or relatives, said a college student named Priya, a participant in the mid-January convention on Violence on Women.

Ambrose Pinto, S.J., said the gathering not only helped educate students about increasing incidents of violence against women, but also encouraged them to assume responsibility to work out preventive measures. After the convention, a core group set up a women-watch program that plans to monitor cases of violence against women in Bangalore.

Number of Seminarians Up 73 Percent Worldwide

The number of seminarians worldwide has grown 73 percent under Pope John Paul II’s pontificate, the Vatican said. The number of seminarians increased from about 64,000 in 1978 to more than 110,500 in 2000. The greatest increase came in Africa, where the number of seminarians more than tripled; Asia followed with an increase of 125 percent; the Americas showed an increase of 65 percent; and Europe’s increase was 12 percent. The Vatican said the global Catholic population grew in 2000 to 1.05 billion, equivalent to 17.3 percent of the world population. Almost half the Catholic population49.4 percentnow lives in the Americas, while 26.7 percent live in Europe, 12.4 percent in Africa, 10.7 percent in Asia and 0.8 percent in Oceania.

Ukrainian Bishops Say Church to Help Facilitate Free Elections

The Ukrainian Catholic bishops said the church would help create an atmosphere for honest elections in March. They also said Ukraine should follow democratic principles in building a new country. The church’s goal, said the bishops, was to help facilitate the creation of an atmosphere under which the elections would serve the purpose of our own good, and at the same time be honest and clear. The bishops said Ukraine, which became an independent nation in 1991 after decades of Soviet rule, was only learning about democracy.

Bolivian Bishops Leave Talks with Government, Coca Farmers

The Bolivian bishops’ conference has pulled out of a dialogue between the government and coca growers because of the farmers’ unwillingness to compromise, said Archbishop Tito Solari of Cochabamba. The archbishop announced the decision after meeting with the farmers’ lead negotiator, Evo Morales, a former congressman who demanded the government’s commitment to stop coca eradication as a precondition to keep talking. Any preconditions to the dialogue must be respectful to the Bolivian law and the fight against drug trafficking, Archbishop Solari said.

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