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China: Size of Catholic population varies
NewsNotes, March-April 2010
Vol. 35 No. 2

The following article is reprinted from the U.S. Catholic China Bureau’s Fall 2009 China Church Quarterly.

The size of the Catholic population in China depends on whom you ask.
The Faith Institute for Cultural Studies in ShiJiaZhuang (Heibei), has released updated statistics on the Church in China. According to the Institute, there are nearly six million Catholics, 3,397 clergy, 5,451 women religious, 628 major seminarians, and 630 minor seminarians. The Catholic community on the mainland manages 381 charitable structures. These include 220 clinics, 11 hospitals, 81 homes for the elderly, 44 kindergartens, a higher-learning center, two vocational training institutes, 22 orphanages and centers for disabled children, three rehabilitation centers, 34 centers for social services. Some 80 religious sisters are working in 20 government structures for lepers.

While the statistics appear to ignore the unofficial Church community, the International Religions Freedom Report 2009 from the U.S. State Department, notes that the “Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) reports that 5.3 million people worship in its churches and it is estimated that there are an additional 12 million or more who worship in unregistered Catholic churches that do not affiliate with the CCPA. According to official sources, the government-sanctioned CCPA has more than 70 bishops, nearly 3,000 priests and religious sisters, 6,000 churches and meeting places, and 12 seminaries. There are thought to be approximately 40 bishops operating underground, some of whom are in prison or under house arrest. Of the 97 dioceses in the country, 40 reportedly did not have an acting bishop in 2007 and more than 30 bishops were over 80 years of age.”

However, statistics compiled in 2008 by the Holy Spirit Study Centre, Hong Kong [which has close ties to Maryknoll] show a marked difference from the Chinese Institute’s figures. It puts the number of Catholics at about 12 million, more than double what was quoted by the Shijiazhuang-based Institute.

UCA News reported on December 23 that Anthony Lam, Sui-ki senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Centre, said staff began collecting data from mainland dioceses in 1988 and there has always been a marked difference between the figures compiled from this information and the official figures from the mainland Church. Lam says that according to research done at his center, there are 80 Vatican-approved bishops, about half of whom are not recognized by the Chinese government. However, he added that there are fewer than 10 bishops in the government-approved Church community who do not have a papal mandate. The Holy Spirit Study Centre spent three months gathering information through emails, telephone calls, faxes and personal interviews. The center’s survey lists more than 400 church-run organizations, including schools, research institutes, publishing houses, medical facilities, and homes for the aged and orphans.

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