HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — A new report by the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK) has detailed the Chinese communist’s growing influence in Hong Kong, and accused the Diocese of Hong Kong of collaborating with Beijing to effect communist “control over elements of the Church.”
Published on January 30, the nearly 60-page report was released to provide details of “the collapse of religious freedom in Hong Kong.”
According to a summary of the report, the diocese of Hong Kong – led by newly created Cardinal Stephen Chow, S.J. – “is working with the CCP to implement its control over elements of the Church, in a process known as ‘Sinicization.’”
Written by Frances Hui from the CFHK – a Hong Kong activist who became the first to receive asylum in the U.S. – the report is titled “Hostile Takeover: The CCP and Hong Kong’s Religious Communities,” and highlights the continually expanding influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong.
Such influence, the CFHK report reads, has been aided by the direct assistance of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong. The report adds that “trips to Beijing omit discussions on the ‘underground’ church and persecuted faithful in mainland China.”
Hong Kong came under the draconian terms of China’s National Security Law (NSL) in June 2020, when Beijing imposed the law on the island in order to suppress dissent against the CCP. It is under that same NSL that Catholic journalist and freedom activist Jimmy Lai is currently being prosecuted.
Referencing this law, Hui’s report noted that the law is “designed to strangle dissent,” and is “used to crack down on freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.” It is being used by the CCP to “stifle religious freedom in Hong Kong while signaling that much tougher measures are yet to come,” she added, noting that while persecution was not of the kind seen in China, a strong process of enforced Sinicization was underway.
[R]eligious leaders are being pressured to promote Chinese Communist Party priorities. Sermons are expected to demand of churchgoers that they adhere to socialist values and accept national security enforcement. Support for human rights and social justice causes are banned. The curricula of religious schools now are mixed with national identity-based curricula. Chinese state flags are required in classrooms as are flag-raising ceremonies.
The diocese and the state
The current bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Chow, has been a cause of concern for China observers due to his conciliatory stance regarding the CCP. While one of his predecessors, Cardinal Joseph Zen, remains outspoken in his criticism of the Vatican’s secretive deal with China, Chow has shied away from such rhetoric and spoken instead of “dialogue.”
The CFHK report alleges that Chow is actively assisting the CCP to promote its agenda: “The Catholic church in Hong Kong is proactively suppressing information on religious persecution in China and has diluted its focus on advocating the rights of the faithful in China.”
Hui referenced Chow’s trips to Beijing to visit with CCP church officials there, during which he highlighted hopes of further collaboration, along with uttering CCP talking points such as “Sinicization.”
According to Hui’s report:
Cardinal Chow seemed to have overestimated the ability of the Hong Kong church to influence the skeleton of the CCP’s Sinicization campaign that has long been developed to inject socialist values and patriotism into religious beliefs. What is at even greater stake is the toll it will gradually take on the beliefs of clergy who will lead the Hong Kong Catholic Church.
She also revealed that following his April 2023 trip, Chow “let it be known internally that all clergy in the Hong Kong church – including priests, seminarians, deacons, and sisters of the diocese and missionaries – will be expected to visit Beijing for an exchange.”
Such trips have already begun, she wrote, with a group from Hong Kong visiting Beijing in October 2023 and another having visited last month.
A reciprocal visit was paid to Hong Kong in November by Beijing’s Bishop Joseph Li Shan, who is the president of the Catholic Patriotic Association – the Chinese state-approved church.
Hui quoted from an anonymous Hong Kong Catholic priest, who said about the various visits: “Seeing officers of the Liaison Office, the Catholic Patriotic Association, and the Religious Affairs Bureau, and hearing [Sinicization] seminars at the Renmin University of China — these are not exchanges, but brainwashing.”
Hui also cited from two key homilies delivered by Chow in December 2022 and 2023, writing that they “aroused concern.”
In both homilies, aired online to Chinese Catholics worldwide, Cardinal Chow tried to legitimize the CPA through the example of Bishop Jin and undermined the sacrifice of those who refused to join the association, while he provoked questions about democracy. His attempt to neutralize the negative impression of the CCP-controlled CPA and on the autocracy itself was deeply concerning.
Following a brief meeting with Chow in Rome recently, this reporter contacted the cardinal asking for comment on the statements Hui’s report makes about him. An answer was not received before publication.
Cardinal Chow, the bridge building Jesuit
Since his appointment to the Diocese of Hong Kong in 2021, Chow has practiced a carefully political and increasingly pro-CCP stance. Speaking in 2021, he distanced himself from the underground Chinese Church and also warned not to expect future statements from him combating the CCP:
I don’t think it’s wise for me to comment on China without enough information and knowledge. It’s not that I’m afraid but prudence is also a virtue.
Speaking to Jesuit-run America Magazine in October 2023, Chow continued this policy and praised the CCP Archdiocese of Beijing – both for the manner in which Li Shan was running the see as well as for the number of seminarians.
Chow also argued that CCP officials “really appreciate [Pope] Francis.” “They see him as someone with whom you can have dialogue, someone who is really interested in China. I say that because it came through in my conversations,” Chow told America.
Such approval from the CCP for Pope Francis was due to his statements and “what he represents,” said the newly created cardinal. “He doesn’t criticize; he wants to know about China, he wants to be fair.”
Chow added that the CCP authorities felt aggrieved and that “they have been misunderstood,” while adding that he was “not saying who’s right, who’s wrong.” Francis’ tone towards the CPP authorities had won him support, argued Chow:
It has become clear to me that the Chinese, the government, and the people feel they have been misunderstood by the West. Some people deliberately twist things and make them look bad. They appreciate anyone who says something fair. I’m not saying who’s right [and] who’s wrong. But I think people who feel they have been misunderstood always feel better when someone has a more positive light on them. They appreciate that Pope Francis appreciates them.
Notably, Chow’s shortest answers in his America Magazine interview were on the topic of freedom in Hong Kong, even arguing that “religious freedom is intact.”
He attempted to downplay issues of free speech, stating that only “if you come out with something that violates the national security law, then that’s a problem.”
But in her report, Hui contested Chow’s suggestion of religious freedom, noting that “many faithful in Hong Kong have already been targeted and oppressed for their faith and their actions led by faith.”
They include well known cases, such as the internationally condemned May 2022 arrest of Cardinal Zen (91), along with the 76-year-old Catholic journalist and vocal China critic Jimmy Lai, who is currently serving a six-year jail term in China for a court sentence of “fraud” and “collusion with foreign forces” and on trial for alleged NSL violations.
Indeed, as highlighted by Hui, a Vatican official told Reuters in 2020 that he interpreted the arrest of Catholic figures on the island “as a way for Beijing to indicate its unhappiness with the mission’s presence in Hong Kong.”
Vatican’s role in pro-Sinicization policy
Hui’s report also contained a number of action items for nations and political leaders, along with allegations that the Vatican’s stance is aiding the CCP, rather than faithful Catholics. The report urged the U.S. and other “democracies” to “discourage the Vatican from extending the agreement with Beijing to Hong Kong,” and to “oppose the Vatican’s deal with Beijing.”
She referenced a potential “liaison office” which the Holy See hopes to open in China. According to Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See hopes for “the opening of an established liaison office of the Holy See in China” which “would not only favor dialogue with the civil authorities, but also contribute to full reconciliation within the Chinese Church and its journey towards a desirable normality.”
Hui wrote how such an office raises “concerns about the potential legalization of state-controlled entities. Hong Kong clerics fear pressure to join associations pledging fidelity to the government.”
Aiming directly at the Vatican and Islamic leaders, Hui then called on them to “advocate for the release of religious prisoners. Repeal the Vatican-China agreement. Speak out against China’s erasure of Uyghur and Hui Muslim culture.”
The much secretive Sino-Vatican deal is believed to recognize the state-approved version of the Catholic Church and allows the CCP to appoint bishops. The Pope apparently maintains a veto power, although in practice it is the CCP that has control. It also allegedly allows for the removal and replacement of legitimate bishops by CCP-approved bishops.
Recent weeks have seen a sudden spate of bishops appointed in China, with Pope Francis appointing them many months after the Chinese authorities appointed them. Such actions have revealed possible details about how the deal works in practice, with the CCP effectively presenting the Holy See with new bishops and the Pope left to sign the approval.
LifeSiteNews inquired with Cardinal Parolin on January 18, asking if the deal would be renewed this fall, since it is coming to the end of the two-year extension enacted in 2022. The communication sent to Parolin has thus far gone unanswered.