Vatican ‘foreign minister’ doubts speaking out on Hong Kong ‘would make any difference whatever’

CNA 59f358745af38 137497 Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See's Secretariat of State, at the Vatican Oct. 27, 2017./ Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

A senior Vatican official said Friday that he and many of his colleagues at the Secretariat of State have yet to be convinced that speaking out on the situation in Hong Kong “would make any difference whatever.”

When Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, was asked what made the civil unrest in Lebanon different to the Holy See than the protest movement in Hong Kong, he replied that the Secretariat of State did not see that it could make a positive contribution in Hong Kong.

“Obviously Hong Kong is the object of concern for us. Lebanon is a place where we perceive that we can make a positive contribution. We do not perceive that in Hong Kong,” Gallagher said at a Holy See press conference on June 25.

“One can say a lot of, shall we say, appropriate words that would be appreciated by the international press and by many parts of the world, but I -- and, I think, many of my colleagues -- have yet to be convinced that it would make any difference whatever.”

Human rights activists have urged the Vatican to publicly express its concerns about the actions of the Chinese Communist Party both in mainland China and Hong Kong.

Benedict Rogers, the founder of Hong Kong Watch, told CNA in April that it would make a “big difference” if the pope were to pray publicly for the Uyghurs, Christians in China, and the people of Hong Kong.

“The current pope is particularly outspoken on issues of persecution, injustice, and conflict around the world,” Rogers said.

“He’s been very good on Myanmar [Burma], for example, and so it’s really puzzling why there’s this almost complete silence on everything to do with China, whether it’s the Uyghurs or Hong Kong or Christians or Tibet,” he added.

Archbishop Gallagher, the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States, has repeatedly said that he believes that “grandstanding” statements would be counter-productive.

He told America magazine in March: “I think you will find it true that the Holy See does not have a policy, a diplomatic policy, of denunciation almost anywhere in the world, and there are human rights abuses in many, many countries.”

His most recent comments on Hong Kong come just days before the U.S. Secretary of State’s scheduled visit to Vatican City. Anthony Blinken is expected to meet with senior Holy See officials.

The State Department has said that religious freedom and the climate crisis will be central topics in the meetings.

Blinken voiced concerns with Chinese officials on June 11 about the “deterioration of democratic norms in Hong Kong and the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against predominantly Muslim Uyghurs and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang,” according to the State Department.

China was a major focus of last October’s visit to the Vatican by the previous U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Before the trip, Pompeo said that the “moral witness” of the Vatican in support of religious believers was sorely needed.

“The Holy See has a unique capacity and duty to focus the world’s attention on human rights violations, especially those perpetrated by totalitarian regimes like Beijing’s. In the late twentieth century, the Church’s power of moral witness helped inspire those who liberated central and eastern Europe from communism,” Pompeo wrote in the journal First Things in September.

“That same power of moral witness should be deployed today with respect to the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

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Chinese mainland authorities have seized greater power in Hong Kong, after the imposition of a national security law on the region in 2020.

Last month, Pope Francis appointed a new bishop of Hong Kong, Fr. Stephen Chow Sau-yan, 周守仁, whose episcopal consecration is scheduled to take place in December.

Bishop-elect Chow has said he believes that prudence and dialogue provide a way forward in the challenges facing his diocese.

At the Vatican press conference, Gallagher added: “We hope that the new bishop is going to do a lot of good work as well.”

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