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(RELIGIONS AND FREEDOM after 1945 – continued)

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RELIGIONS AND FREEDOM after 1945 (4 of 7)

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East Europe, Cuba and China

Poland had been something like 96 percent Roman Catholic before World War II, and it remained overwhelmingly Roman Catholic after Communism took power after the war. In Poland in 1950 Archbishop Stephan Wyszynski entered into a secret agreement with the Communist authorities. The agreement separated the Church from politics, prohibited religious indoctrination in public schools, allowed government authorities to select a bishop from 3 candidates presented, and it allowed the Church to hold property. The Church appointed Wyszynski cardinal in 1952, but before he could take office he was imprisoned for criticizing the government. In 1953 there were mass trials of priests accused of having broken the law. While imprisoned, Cardinal Wyszynski observed torture and mistreatment of the detainees.

In 1956 the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the Communist regime in Poland were interested lifting Stalinist repression, and they relaxed their opposition to the Catholic Church. In 1958, Pius XII appointed Karol Wojtyla, 38, auxiliary bishop of Krakow. He was a future pope – John Paul II. While a priest in Poland, Wojtyla had studied theology and received a second doctorate in philosophy, with Communist authorities delaying the doctorate. After approval of his doctorate by the authorities there was enough freedom for Wojtyla to write a series of articles in the approved Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny ("Universal Weekly") dealing with Church issues.

In , the Stalinists in power after the World War were determined to suppress opposition to their rule. The Church and 's landed elite lost control over their immense landholdings. From mid-1947 Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty was visiting various locations across the country speaking to and praying with large gatherings of the faithful. He was careful not to openly criticize the Stalinist regime, but reminded those who had gathered that Satan was ever-present. Communists leaders were looking toward the Catholic Church in being subservient similar to the Orthodox Church in the Soviet Union, but perceived hostility toward the regime brought a crackdown. In 1948 Stalinism reached a new high in fear. The regime announced that "clerical reaction" had to be defeated. In late December, 1948, Mindszenty was accused of violating current laws and charged with treason and conspiracy. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and tortured into making conversions. In 1950, around 2,500 monks and nuns were deported, and the regime banned 64 of what had been 68 religious newspapers and journals. The repression was lifted by 1964, eight years after the abortive Hungarian Revolution. A new Communist regime that year concluded an agreement with the Vatican. It ratified certain episcopal appointments to positions in Hungary that had been made by the Church, and the Church agreed that its representatives in Hungary would take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution and Hungary's laws, binding only to the extent that the country's laws were not in opposition to the tenets of the Catholic faith.

In late 1989, Communist parties lost power in Poland, Hungary and other Soviet satellite states, and in late 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. But religious freedom remained a concern regarding countries where Communist political parties remained in power: Cuba and China.

For Cuba it was not much of an issue. In 1984 Fidel Castro attended a Methodist service with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. In January, 1998, Pope John Paul II made an historic journey to Cuba, and, with Fidel Castro in the crowd, hundreds of thousands applauded and chanted repeatedly. Cuba's Communist Party decided to accept as members those practicing a religious faith.

In China, Communists came to power in 1949 and tolerated no religious organization that would be a source of opposition to their power or serve as instruments of social chaos. As in Japan, religious groups had to register, and the state recognized as legitimate Buddhist, Tao, Islamic, Catholic and Protestant religious organizations. These registered organizations were committed to obeying the law and living harmoniously with state authority.

The Cultural Revolution that started in 1966 in China was bent on destroying pre-revolutionary traditions, and it persecuted religious practitioners. The Cultural Revolution ended in 1977. Buddhist temples were allowed to reopen and services among Christians were permitted once again. In 1982 China adopted a new constitution, Article 36, which guaranteed freedom of religion. It read that "No state organ, public organization or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion; nor may they discriminate against citizens who believe in, or do not believe in, any religion." It also stated that "No one may make use of religion to engage in activities that disrupt public order, impair the health of citizens or interfere with the educational system of the state," and it stated that religious organizations in China were to be free of foreign domination.

The Chinese state came into conflict with the religious group called the Falun Gong. Its followers did slow and meditative exercises called Qigong and adhered to principles of "truthfulness, compassion and forbearance" as set out in the books Falun Gong and Zhuan Falun. The group had no official membership or roster. In 1998, China's government published a figure of 70 million practitioners in China. A Falun Gong website claims 100 million practitioners in "114 countries and regions around the world." In April, 1999, police in the city of Tianjin broke up a session of Qigong in a public park. Over ten thousand Falun Gong practitioners gathered at Communist Party headquarters in a silent protest against the beatings and arrests. This made the group appear more dangerous to the Party, and two months later the government banned Qigong public gatherings. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands continued their devotions and exercises in private settings.

In China were Protestant groups that failed to register with the state. Some of them looked upon those Protestant groups that did register as too accommodating with Communism and too liberal. Some Catholic groups did not register because of state opposition to pledges of allegiance to a foreign source, namely the Vatican. The Pew Research Center in the United States has estimated that in the first decade of the new century between 50 and 70 million people worship in religious groups that were unregistered, and the conflict between state authority and unregistered religious groups continued.

Copyright © 2006-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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