Hong Kong Catholic Church Divided Over National Security Law

Hong Kong Catholic Church Divided Over National Security Law
Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
What you need to know

The Hong Kong Catholic Church is internally split.

By Joe Wu* 

Cardinal John Tong Hon of Hong Kong has made headlines for playing down the threat of the new national security to religious freedom. But this hasn’t eased the fears of many Catholics working for the diocese. 

In less than two months since the national security law took effect, around 20 people have either been arrested or listed as “wanted.” Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily and a well-known Catholic philanthropist, was among the arrested. 

Former Bishop of Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, a strong critic of the Chinese Government, says he’s ready to be arrested after the passage of Hong Kong’s national security law. “We are very passive, we can do nothing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Cardinal John Tong Hon, the current head of the Hong Kong Catholic Church, said he believes that the law “will not negatively impact on religious freedom” in the city. 

Cardinal Tong served as Bishop of Hong Kong from 2009 to 2017, succeeding Cardinal Zen. But Tong was brought out of retirement to lead the diocese in 2019 after the death of his own successor Michael Yeung. 

“Article 32 of the Basic Law guarantees the freedom of religious belief and freedom to preach, conduct and participate in religious activities in public,” Cardinal Tong told Kung Kao Po, the Catholic official weekly, on June 28.

Cardinal Tong, 81, also stressed that the diocese maintains direct subordination with the Vatican and “it has to be viewed as an internal matter of the Catholic Church.”

A Catholic working for the diocese, who asked to stay anonymous for fear of backlash from the national security law, disagrees with Cardinal Tong’s optimism.

“In 2003, Article 23 of the Basic Law made us worry about the relationship between the Holy See and the diocese. How come he has such confidence when the NSL [Hong Kong national security law] is even harsher than Article 23?” the source told The News Lens.

RELATED: 6 Ways Hong Kong’s National Security Law Contradicts Its Current Legal System

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images
Cardinal John Tong Hon, of Hong Kong, attends Pope Francis' weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, June 12, 2019. 

The source pointed out that government authorities in the Mindong region of Fujian province accused a foreign human rights media organization as the “infiltration of foreign power” because they reported on Catholic persecution there.

“Will we face the same accusation when we support the underground Catholics in China under the NSL? It makes the Catholics in Hong Kong more concerned when they want to do something for the persecuted church in China,” the source said. 

In the years since the era of Pope John Paul II, the Church in Hong Kong has been entrusted as a bridge between the Vatican and the Church in China, also between the open church and underground church in the mainland.

Catholics in Hong Kong also worry that the national security law will affect their religious life. An anonymous Catholic concern group said the letter sent by the Catholic Education Office Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong (CEO) urging Catholic schools to adopt national security education is alarming. 

In a letter issued on August 4, Peter Lau Chiu-yin, the episcopal delegate for education at the CEO, wrote, “Students should have a correct understanding of the national security and national anthem laws … Their sense of national security and law-abiding awareness should be enhanced, as they should also learn about and respect the national flag, emblem, and anthem.” 

The concern group believes that the CEO made a low-key announcement, mainly because “they want to show favor to the regime but not for the good of education.”

They also think the Church will have a greater self-censorship. “Clergies might avoid speaking about democracy or social justice in their homily. We’re afraid the Church will keep silent on all social justice issues and cannot fulfill the role as a prophet,” the group said.

“Cardinal Tong did not have a strong and clear stand last year during the anti-extradition movement,” the Catholic group said. “The Beijing government must have given pressure to the church authority, the closed door meeting at the Liaison Office last month may be an example.”

Cardinal Tong’s point of view reflects that the diocese is not ready to face this serious social issue, the group added. “He still holds an attitude of ‘the river water does not interfere with well water.’” 


*Joe Wu is a pseudonym for an active Catholic youth in the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese. The author requested anonymity to prevent reprisals. 

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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