The term underground church (Chinese: 地下教会; pinyin: dìxià jiàohuì) is used to refer to Chinese Catholic churches in the People's Republic of China which have chosen not to associate with the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, they are also called loyal church (Chinese: 忠贞教会; pinyin: zhongzhen jiàohuì). Underground churches came into existence in the 1950s, after the communist party's establishment of the People's Republic of China, due to the severing of ties between Chinese Catholics and the Holy See.
There continues to be tensions between underground churches and "open churches" which have joined the state-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (Chinese: 中国天主教爱国会; pinyin: Zhōngguó Tiānzhǔjiào Àiguó Huì).
The description of an "underground church" reflects language that was made popular during the Cold War, when these churches came about. Underground churches are also sometimes referred to as "Vatican loyalists" because they have attempted to remain loyal to the Pope and the Holy See. There is no established organization structure of underground churches, though they tend to be clustered around a number of Vatican-ordained bishops. However, underground churches would in 1989 form the Bishops Conference of Mainland China (Chinese: 天主教中国大陆主教团; pinyin: Tiānzhǔjiào Zhōngguó Dàlù Zhǔjiào Tuán) as separate from the state-sanctioned Bishops Conference of Catholic Church in China (Chinese: 中国天主教主教团; pinyin: Zhōngguó Tiānzhǔjiào Zhǔjiào Tuán), which was established in 1980.
Chinese Catholics associated with underground churches are often seen in contrast with the Chinese Catholics associated with the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, often termed "open churches" (Chinese: 地上教会; pinyin: dìshàng jiàohuì; literally: 'above ground church'), which are officially independent of the Holy See.
Underground churches in China are considered illegal, although smaller groups of fewer than 5 members are sometimes tolerated by the government.
It is not unusual that Chinese Catholics attending underground churches get arrested, detained without trial, even tortured. While there are churches for expatriates and expat Christians staying in China are allowed to have their own churches which are not interfered by the government, foreigners, including those of Chinese heritage, found involved with underground churches will be arrested and deported.
For security reason, most overseas Chinese churches, even the Chinese Regional Bishops' Conference, the only Chinese Bishops' Conference recognised by the Holy See which is nowadays based in Taiwan, refuse to support the underground churches in China.
- Bays, Daniel (2012). A New History of Christianity in China. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 192–193.
- Rocca, Francis X. (November 18, 2013). "Do not abandon Catholics in China, Cardinal tells Church". www.catholicherald.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-21.
- Leung, Beatrice; Liu, William T. (2004). Chinese Catholic Church in Conflict: 1949-2001. Boca Raton, Florida: Universal Publishers. pp. 91–96, 143–153. ISBN 978-1581125146.
- Lee, Joseph Tse-Hei (March 2007). "Christianity in Contemporary China: An Update". Journal of Church and State. 49 (2): 278–279. doi:10.1093/jcs/49.2.277. ISSN 0021-969X.
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