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Cablegate: Sw China Catholics: Priest Shortage and Government Control

DE RUEHCN #0016/01 0260839
R 260839Z JAN 10




E.O. 12958: N/A


CHENGDU 00000016 001.2 OF 002

1. (U) This cable contains sensitive but unclassified
information - not for distribution on the Internet.

2. (SBU) Summary: Luo Xuegang, a Catholic priest in Sichuan
Province's Yibin city, recently told Consul General that the
Yibin diocese has a 135-year history and more than 40,000
believers. Luo said that although the Yibin diocese has 22
Catholic churches and places of worship, it has only eight
priests and one (94-year old) bishop. Luo provided specific
examples of active government control of the Catholic Church in
Sichuan, while making general statements before our FAO handlers
that downplayed the government's role. End Summary.

A Priest Describes the Catholic Church in Yibin

--------------------------------------------- --

3. (SBU) Over a January 7 lunch that included representatives
from the Yibin Foreign Affairs Office (FAO), Luo Xuegang told CG
that Yibin has over 40,000 Catholics who are led by eight
priests and one bishop. (Note: A 2007 Yibin College Journal
article noted that Jesuit missionaries arrived in Sichuan in the
1640s; by 1702, French missionaries of the Missionary Society of
Paris were preaching and making converts in Yibin. In 1946, the
Yibin diocese had 28,000 Catholics in a population of 7.6
million. The diocese had 26 foreign missionaries, 36 Chinese
assistant clergy, five foreign monks, 45 Chinese monks, 60 lay
preachers, 100 religious centers, and one clinic with 80 beds.
The Yibin diocese is now led by 94-year old Bishop Chen, who is
recognized by both the Vatican and the leadership of the
Catholic Patriotic Association in Beijing (reftel). Bishop Chen
was ill during our visit to Yibin, so we could not meet him.
End Note.)

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4. (SBU) The Catholic Diocese of Yibin includes the cities of
Neijiang, Zigong, and Luzhou, which together have a total
population of about 15.5 million people, according to Sichuan's
official statistics. Luo said that Yibin diocese has 22
Catholic churches and places of worship, although he did not
explain what constituted a place of worship. He briefly
mentioned family churches, but he did not say how many existed
in and around Yibin. Luo may not have been including family
churches in his total count of Catholic churches. The religious
atmosphere in Yibin, according to Luo, is one in which believers
of different faiths, from Taoism, to Buddhism, to Catholicism
coexist harmoniously.

5. (SBU) Luo said that Yibin had a shortage of priests and, in
some cases, one priest had responsibility for more than one
church. He stated that churches have enough bibles for
believers, many of whom live in rural areas. Luo went on to say
that churches offered training to the rural believers whose
knowledge of the Catholic faith was "not high quality."

Attempts to Show Government's Hands-Off Approach

--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) Luo, at different points in the conversation,
emphasized that the government had "limited" involvement with
the establishment and operation of the Catholic Diocese of
Yibin. He said that the number of believers in a given area was
the criteria used to determine if a new church should be built.
Luo said that the government did not get too involved in the
operation of legal churches, but did provide "support" to them.
He also said that the Chinese people enjoyed freedom of
religion. (Comment: Luo may have felt the need to emphasize
the government's non-interference in religious activities
because members of the Yibin FAO were present at the lunch. Or,
he may have been frankly conveying his perception of the
relationship between the Catholic Church and the government. CG
did not have an opportunity to talk with Luo without the FAO
near at hand, however. End Comment.)

CHENGDU 00000016 002.2 OF 002

Statements Suggest Strong Government Involvement in Activities

--------------------------------------------- -----------------

7. (SBU) In contrast to Luo's general statements about religious
freedom, he repeatedly provided specific examples that showed
extensive governmental oversight and involvement with the
Catholic Diocese of Yibin. He said that men who study to join
the priesthood must pass a test administered by the government
before becoming a priest, although Luo did not say how this test
differed from the church-administered test. Luo further said
that the government would not allow too many small churches. He
claimed that small churches would lead to "disorder" and were
more difficult for the government to manage. In another example
of direct government involvement, Luo noted that the Yibin
government had shown great interest in refurbishing the bishop's
office building. The government has pledged to make the office
building one of the best buildings in Yibin. The Sichuan
provincial government around 2004 or 2005 provided 20 million
RMB to rebuild the Sichuan's Catholic Theological College in
Pixian, although Luo could not remember the date exactly. All
men in Yibin who seek to become priests must study at this
college. Luo stated that since 2005, Sichuan's government has
increased its support to Catholic churches.

Father Luo Biographic Information


8. (SBU) Luo said that his father, mother, and many of his
relatives were Catholics. He entered Sichuan Catholic
Theological College in 1984, and became a priest in 1991. He
recently transferred to Yibin to help Bishop Chen. Luo told CG
that he has traveled through the rural areas of the Yibin
diocese, and is now focused on building churches and training.
He expressed an interest in other religions during the course of
the lunch conversation, and said that he had recently attended a
seminar hosted by the International Taoism Association that had
attracted participants from a number of areas including
Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

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