Brutal crackdown in Tibet. Forced sterilizations and abortions. Restrictions on religious freedom. Military support to Sudan. One-child policy. Failure to intervene in Myanmar. "Prisoners of conscience" languishing in prisons. Economic support of North Korea. Tiananmen Square.

What these issues have in common is that each involves human-rights violations by the People's Republic of China, and each has been offered as a reason why nations or their political leaders should boycott this summer's 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

In the United States, a handful of congressional resolutions have been introduced that call either for a complete U.S. boycott of the games or, at the minimum, its opening ceremonies. Some advocacy groups and political observers believe the threat of a boycott could be used as "leverage" to force China to amend its policies on any or all of the above issues. Even if unsuccessful in the short term, they say, the action could help cast a spotlight on China's human-rights violations for all the world to see, which might increase international pressure for real change.

Diverse opinions

Catholic leaders are divided on the question of a U.S. boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

"Personally, that is not something that I would recommend," said Jesuit Father Michel Marcil, executive director of the U.S. Catholic China Bureau, headquartered at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J. "I think it would be counterproductive."

To antagonize China in such a way could cause the communist republic "to withdraw even more into its shell and stop having a relationship with the world outside," Father Marcil told Our Sunday Visitor. "They'd be able to say, 'The way you treat us, you've just confirmed what we already thought of you.' "

Catholic League president Bill Donohue has come out against a full U.S. boycott, stating in a press release that "too many innocent athletes would be punished." However, he has said that President George W. Bush should not attend the opening ceremonies.

In Congress, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) supports a complete U.S. boycott of the Beijing Games over China's poor record of human rights and its support of oppressive governments of Myanmar (Burma), Sudan and North Korea. A Catholic with a pro-life voting record and co-sponsor of a House resolution recommending a boycott, Smith has taken to calling the 2008 Games the "Genocide Olympics" because of China's role in the genocide in Darfur, Sudan.

Joseph Kung, president of the Cardinal Kung Foundation, does not think a national boycott of the Olympics goes far enough. His nonprofit organization, based in Stamford, Conn., monitors the persecution of Catholic clergy in China and provides funds and material support to the underground Catholic Church.

Noting that underground priests and a bishop have been arrested as recently as last summer, Kung urged that the Beijing Games be canceled entirely.

"I urge the Olympic Committee to consider canceling the Games in China in order to preserve their good name and spirit," he said. "Otherwise, the noble name of 'Olympic' could be severely tarnished by its association with religious persecution and human-rights violations in China."

Threats to freedom

Kung is perhaps the most ardent advocate in this country for the clergy and people of the underground Church. His uncle, the late Cardinal Ignatius Kung of Shanghai, spent more than 30 years in Chinese prisons, until his exile to the United States in 1987.

The cardinal's only "crime" was his refusal to join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA), a government-controlled organization that enjoys a degree of religious freedom but professes loyalty to the state rather than to the pope. The "underground" Catholic Church comprises bishops, priests and faithful who elected not to "cooperate" with China's communist government. Clergy and faithful alike risk their freedom and even their lives to participate clandestinely in the Eucharist.

The Cardinal Kung Foundation records four bishops in prison, two in hiding and eight under house arrest or strict surveillance. It also names nine imprisoned priests and three others who have been released but have been forbidden to celebrate the sacraments.

Father Marcil disagrees with Kung and his statistics. China today "recognizes the legal existence of five religions," including Catholicism, and the treatment of underground Catholic leaders has improved, he said.

"There are only four bishops [detained today], and they are not in prison," Father Marcil told OSV. "They are under house arrest, although not necessarily in their own house. This is not the kind of treatment that they used to give before."

A policy of engagement

In a carefully worded letter last June to all Catholics of China, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged both perspectives on religious repression in China. Although the Church in China "has enjoyed greater religious freedom than in the past," he wrote, "it cannot be denied that grave limitations remain that touch the heart of the faith and that, to a certain degree, suffocate pastoral activity."

Although he did not address the issue of an Olympics boycott, the pope called for a "willingness to engage in respectful and constructive dialogue" -- between the CCPA and the underground Church, between the CCPA and the pope, and between China and the Holy See.

The highest-ranking Vatican official to take a public stand on the Olympics boycott is Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He told reporters April 11 that he was "saddened" by the efforts to "link a peaceful competition with politics, wrangling, discrimination."

Cardinal Martino said that all athletes, politicians and heads of state "will judge according to their own consciences" whether to attend.

Orlando Bishop Thomas Wenski, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, sees the Beijing Games as an opportunity to effect positive change in China and in Tibet.

"The eyes of the world are on China in the runup to the Summer Olympics 2008," he said in an April 3 letter to Christopher Hill, U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. "In your interaction with the Chinese government, we would ask that you impress upon the Chinese leadership the need to respect the cultural diversity, traditions and rights, including religious freedom, of minorities, be they Tibetan Buddhists or Chinese Christians."

Priests under persecution

Here are a few of the bishops and priests presently affected by China's repression of the underground Catholic Church, according to the Cardinal Kung Foundation:

Bishop Su Zhimin of Baoding, Hebei Province, has been arrested at least five times and has spent 27 years in prison. He was once beaten in prison so savagely that he suffered extensive hearing loss. Except for a secondhand report that he was treated for eye and heart ailments in a Baoding hospital in 2003, he has not been heard from since his last arrest in 1997. His whereabouts are unknown, and the government claims he is not in custody.

Father Guo Ergrang, arrested in 2001, and Father Zhang Zhenquian, arrested in 2004, are being held in Xushui County Detention Center. Each also has reportedly been locked up in a cage for about 10 hours a day over the course of several months.

Father Lu Genjun has been arrested six times since his ordination in 1989. He was beaten severely in 1990. In 2001, his fourth arrest, he was sentenced to three years in a labor camp simply for being an underground priest. He was arrested again in 2006, and his whereabouts are unknown.

Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.