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Power play likely to divide Catholic Church in Hong Kong

Beijing's use of patriotism and love for the party to identify clergy is an insult to pastors and a violation of religious freedom

Yip Ban-chi, Hong Kong

Yip Ban-chi, Hong Kong

Updated: October 01, 2020 03:51 AM GMT
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Power play likely to divide Catholic Church in Hong Kong

The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Hong Kong. Many fear the Beijing-controlled administration will soon ask religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, to obtain state recognition. (Photo: UCA News)

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The Beijing-controlled administration in Hong Kong is now busy extending an accreditation system prevalent in mainland China. As a result, many fear the administration will soon ask religious bodies, including the Catholic Church, to obtain state recognition.

The Hong Kong Police Force recently amended the definition of journalists in the Police General Orders. It now recognizes as journalists only those who work with media outlets registered with the government's Information Services Department. This is tantamount to a new regulatory definition of journalists and a new government licensing system.

There is a general concern among the press that if the government were to define the status of journalists, they might face a charge of "unlawful newsgathering" or even be unable to report the truth, and the public might end up receiving only official information, seriously affecting the public's right to know.

Understandably, certain professions need licensing and accreditation, such as healthcare professionals, social workers, insurance and financial practitioners. However, the qualifications of these professions are usually accredited by the professions concerned.

Such an accreditation system is not new to the religiously minded in authoritarian China. Clergy must obtain certification from the civil authorities to perform their duties and may even be convicted if they illegally conduct religious activities. 

Since the Chinese Communist Party came to power, there has been no end to restrictions on the Catholic clergy's pastoral ministry for failing to register with the government.

In Jiangxi, authorities recently banned priests from underground church groups that are not recognized by the government from engaging in religious activities.

The Ministry of United Front Work, the Religious Affairs Bureau and the Public Security Bureau require underground priests to register and join the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) to have permission to minister people within prescribed limits. 

The Chinese government has been coercing and enticing priests to join the CCPA, which runs counter to doctrine, in exchange for recognition by the government and permission to teach openly.

Many priests have been repressed, their personal freedom restricted, and even subjected to physical assault because they chose not to apply for government certification as a matter of conscience.

However, the authority to decide whether a person is a Catholic priest should be the Roman Catholic Church, not the communist government. The Chinese government uses patriotism and love for the party as the criterion to identify clergy. It is an insult to pastors and a violation of religious freedom, and even an obstacle to the spread of truth.

For example, before the national security law was enacted in Hong Kong, the Chinese Communist Party "invited" the Hong Kong religious community to attend a meeting at the liaison office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to state their positions on the legislation.

The Education Bureau also put pressure on the Diocese of Hong Kong and its Education Office to send a series of letters to its schools asking them to support the security law that aimed to suppress the pro-democracy movement.

Now that Hong Kong is increasingly — and quickly — converging with mainland China, it will not be a miracle if the accreditation system is extended to Hong Kong's religious circles. Like civil servants, the Catholic clergy will then have to swear an oath of allegiance to the regime before performing their duties.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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