Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jul 23, 2020 / 05:00 am
Part 2 of a three part series examining the situation of the Church in China.
As the Vatican and China negotiate an extension of the 2018 deal that ceded a measure of control over episcopal appointments to the Communist Party, the Diocese of Hong Kong continues to be the center of an ecclesiastical and diplomatic minefield.
The Diocese of Hong Kong has been without a bishop since January 2019. Successive candidates selected by the Vatican, and approved by Pope Francis, have had to be withdrawn over political concerns.
In May, the Chinese state legislature on the mainland voted to impose a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, outside of the territory’s own democratically elected legislature. The law criminalizes anything Beijing considers “foreign interference” and will permit Chinese security forces to operate in the city.
This has prompted fears about religious freedom. Compared to the mainland, where the Communist-sanctioned Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association remains the only permitted Catholic presence, the Diocese of Hong Kong has operated with relative freedom. Local Catholics now worry that this will change, and that faithful Catholics could be deemed “foreign collaborators” by the government.
Despite these concerns, Cardinal John Tong Hon, who is temporarily leading the Diocese of Hong Kong after previously retiring from the position in 2017, spoke publicly of his support for the new security law and his confidence in its provisions for the Church. “I personally believe that the National Security Law will have no effect on religious freedom,” Tong said in June, before the final text had been released.
Noting that the Basic Law of Hong Kong guarantees the right to “openly preach and hold religious ceremonies, and participate in religious activities,” he dismissed concerns that direct links with the Vatican by the diocese could be deemed “collusion.”
“The diocese has always had a direct relationship with the Vatican; the relationship between the Hong Kong diocese and the Vatican should be regarded as an internal matter,” Tong said.