Updated: December 06, 2021 03:47 AM GMT
No human being should try to peer into the depths of the soul of another. It’s a futile exercise. Human minds, hearts, souls and consciences are complex jungles, each to a varying degree a combination of light and darkness, goodness and sin, often with a heavy dose of moral equivocation and understandable lack of courage.
Ultimately, God alone has the right to judge the condition of the human heart. And none of us would wish for our souls and hearts to be laid bare to public judgment.
Nevertheless, amid the web of human sin, certain things are clear. A Catholic should be ready to genuflect, bow, kneel or prostate oneself before God alone, but a Catholic should never kowtow or kneel before a dictator, a tyrant, a criminal or before evil.
A Catholic — indeed a Christian of any tradition — can and should, in certain circumstances, be a mediator, a negotiator, a bridge builder, a peacemaker and a seeker of reconciliation and healing. That is a noble aim, no matter how difficult or unrealistic the task.
But a Catholic can never be a facilitator of repression, injustice, criminality, brutality, inhumanity or repression. A Catholic can never be a violator of the imago dei, the centerpiece of Catholic social teaching.
At Saturday’s Mass to consecrate and install Hong Kong’s Bishop Stephen Chow Sau-yan, SJ, it was noticeable that the administration's chief executive, Carrie Lam, who has presided over the dismantling of the city’s freedoms and autonomy over the past four years, sat in the front row. It was also very noticeable that she left just before Holy Communion.
Or it was a sign of her personal arrogance that she had supposedly more important things to do than to wait to receive the sacraments from the new bishop
Carrie Lam has always been very public about her Catholic faith, claiming somewhat presumptuously back in 2015 that there was "a place in heaven reserved for her." I would not be so equally presumptuous as to challenge that — as that’s God’s prerogative and His alone — but if I were the travel agent booking the tickets to an eternal destination, based on her record I would be more inclined to send her a long-term ticket to hell, or at least a sabbatical in purgatory for reflection on her conduct. But we believe in a God of Mercy.
Her decision to leave the Mass before receiving the Eucharist from the new bishop was striking. And it could only be for one of three reasons.
Either it was a deliberate snub, and a sign of gross disrespect, perhaps ordered by her Chinese Communist Party masters in Beijing, who are furious that although Rome did not appoint a more vocal critic of the regime as the new bishop, neither did it appoint a pro-Beijing apparatchik.
Or it was a sign of her personal arrogance that she had supposedly more important things to do than to wait to receive the sacraments from the new bishop.
Or it was a recognition of her own state of sin. Having perhaps not gone to confession in church — and not wanting to face confession with her Communist Party masters, who, in common with Catholics, share a commitment to the principle of confession of sin — she may not have wanted to receive the sacraments. But then why not stay in her pew, as everyone else in a similar spiritual state would do, instead of leaving, television cameras following her, as the new bishop began distributing Holy Communion?
Perhaps no one will ever know the answer. In the end, only God knows. But her conduct is illustrative of the tension at the heart of her public persona as someone who claims, at the same time, to be a devout Catholic and to govern Hong Kong.
How can a true Catholic preside over a system that locks up fellow Christians and fellow human beings for peaceful protest or allows police to beat peaceful protesters with impunity?
Almost two years ago, I tried to offer Carrie Lam some spiritual support, Catholic to Catholic. Just after Christmas 2019, as police were indiscriminately bashing heads and firing tear gas on Hong Kongers on Christmas Eve and subsequent days, I wrote a letter to Ms. Lam offering her my personal prayers for her and her city. I sent a signed copy of a book I had written, From Burma To Rome: A Journey Into the Catholic Church, which tells the story of my spiritual journey, my human rights work, but more importantly the testimonies of remarkable, courageous Catholics whose role in the fight for freedom has inspired me.
My book includes short biographies of some of my spiritual heroes, including Hong Kong’s brave, outspoken Bishop Emeritus Cardinal Joseph Zen (who concelebrated the Mass for the new bishop) and the father of its democracy movement, Martin Lee, now serving a suspended sentence. I had hoped that while challenging her, it might also inspire her. I inscribed it with these words: “To Carrie Lam — with my prayers — for you and for Hong Kong, and with love for Hong Kong.”
To my surprise a few weeks later I received a package through my letterbox. I opened it up and it was my book and letter returned, with a reply on Hong Kong government official notepaper from her assistant saying she did not want either my book or my prayers. What kind of Catholic does that?
But far more significant than her rejection of my book — which is unimportant — or her decision not to receive the sacraments from Hong Kong’s new bishop — which is more important — is her entire record in government.
Frankly, it is difficult to reconcile anything about her record in government with her supposed Catholic faith. Her arrogance and aloofness, her refusal to listen to dissent, her rejection of criticism or any possibility of independent inquiries, her eager acquiescence with oppression and her zealous and enthusiastic readiness to implement the tools of repression are all at odds with Catholic principles of justice, truth, human rights, peace and human dignity.
How can a true Catholic preside over a system that locks up fellow Christians and fellow human beings for peaceful protest or allows police to beat peaceful protesters with impunity? How can a Catholic enthusiastically implement repressive legislation to silence freedom of conscience and expression?
She needs to decide where her primary loyalties lie — to God, her Church and the people of Hong Kong or to the brutal Chinese Communist Party regime
Bishop Chow is right to offer himself as a bridge builder, to hope for healing and reconciliation and dialogue. I applaud him for it, I support him in it and I pray for him and for the Church throughout these coming years.
But as an interlocutor, in Carrie Lam he faces a conflicted woman. A woman who wants to pretend to be Catholic Carrie while diligently being Comrade Carrie. She needs to decide where her primary loyalties lie — to God, her Church and the people of Hong Kong or to the brutal Chinese Communist Party regime whose dirty work she has so eagerly done for her masters in Beijing. Ultimately, no person can serve two masters.
Recently in Canada, I was asked what question I would ask Carrie Lam if I ever met her face to face. I answered immediately: as a supposed so-called Catholic, how do you reconcile your actions and record in government with your faith?
So, Carrie Lam, which is it to be: Comrade Carrie, the Chinese Communist Party apparatchik, a position for which you are so well qualified, or Catholic Carrie, who stays true to the Christian principles with which you were raised but which you appear to have forgotten or perhaps never absorbed: love, compassion, forgiveness, justice, human dignity, human rights, freedom, reconciliation, peace?
Comrade Carrie or Catholic Carrie — you cannot be both. At some point, your conscience, mind and heart must awaken to make a choice.
* Benedict Rogers is a human rights activist and writer. He is the co-founder and chief executive of Hong Kong Watch, senior analyst for East Asia at the international human rights organisation CSW, co-founder and deputy chair of the UK Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, a member of the advisory group of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) and a board member of the Stop Uyghur Genocide Campaign. He is the author of six books, and his faith journey is told in his book “From Burma to Rome: A Journey into the Catholic Church” (Gracewing, 2015). The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
….As we enter the first months of 2022, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.