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Cdl. Stephen Chow, S.J., at the Vatican, September 30, 2023Michael Haynes

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — The Jesuit Cardinal-Archbishop of Hong Kong has refused to acknowledge threats to the seal of confession contained in a new domestic security law that would require priests to inform authorities when they hear in sacramental confession what the government deems a “crime of treason.” 

In a press statement on the matter Cardinal Stephen Chow stated, “The legislation of Article 23 will not alter the confidential nature of Confession.” 

The government of Hong Kong published a new security law titled Article 23 on March 8 that will require Catholic priests to break the seal of confession by revealing any crimes of “treason” they hear confessed, with a potential 14-year imprisonment for those who refuse. The law directly threatens the integrity of the sacramental seal to which all priests are bound under the ecclesiastical penalty of an automatic excommunication. 

READ: 14 years in prison threatened for Hong Kong priests who refuse to break seal of confession  

Taipei Times reported that last week Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Paul Lam said in response to a lawmaker’s question that it would be “very difficult to create exceptions” from the law for priests and social workers.  

However, despite the clear threat to priests and the integrity of the seal of confession for the Catholic faithful, Chowwho has called for the Sinicization of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, following the mandate of the CCP, which is seeking increasing control of the Hong Kong Catholic Church has refused to oppose or condemn the new security law, leaving both priests and faithful at the mercy of the communist regime. 

In a press release issued March 15, the cardinal stated: 

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has the following response to the recent social concern over Confession (Sacrament of Reconciliation) :
1. With regard to the legislation of Article 23 on safeguarding national security, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong recognizes that citizens have an obligation to ensure national security;
2. The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has expressed its views on Article 23 legislation;
3. The legislation of Article 23 will not alter the confidential nature of Confession
(Sacrament of Reconciliation) of the Church.

Priests of Hong Kong have told LifeSiteNews that the cardinal is acting in his usual manner of compliance with Chinese authorities, which “offends no side and assures of nothing,” having stated that citizens must “ensure national security” while also giving his assurance that sacramental confession remains “confidential.” 

China expert Steven Mosher, author of the soon to be released book, The Devil and Communist China, said he thought Chow was hoping the problem would disappear without having to confront it directly in a public way. 

Mosher also said it was clear the CCP wishes to control and ultimately annihilate the Catholic Church in all of China, including on the island of Hong Kong, and that they were using “fear tactics” to intimidate the large Catholic population of Hong Kong, which has gathered there over the decades to escape the tightening persecution against the Church in mainland China. 

Mosher explained that the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has considerable social and economic weight given the fact that, in lieu of government-run social services, the Church has built up and operated many of the city’s schools, hospitals, and charities. For this reason, he argued, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong is still a formidable enemy of the atheistic regime. 

READ: Proposed Hong Kong law could cut off island’s Catholics from the Vatican 

Benedict Rogers, the co-founder and CEO of human rights advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, has strongly condemned the new security law, pointing out the way in which it has criminalized the seal of silence to which priests are bound in the confessional. 

Drawing attention to the danger posed for Catholic priests, Rogers said what was “of most concern… is the suggestion made in remarks reported Thursday by Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Lam Ting-kwok that, under the new security law, the crime of ‘failing to disclose the commission of treason by others’ means that if a person knows that another person has committed ‘treason’ but fails to disclose the knowledge to the authorities within a reasonable time, that person is guilty of a crime. And the Bill provides a 14-year sentence in such circumstances.” 

“For the Catholic Church, what is known as the ‘Seal of Confession’ is exactly that,” Rogers insisted. “While a priest might encourage a penitent who has committed a serious crime to confess that crime to the authorities, the priest cannot report it himself and must never be held criminally liable for having heard that confession.” 

He continued, “To force a priest to reveal what has been said in confession, against his will and conscience and in total violation of the privacy of the individual confessing, is a total violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and as such is completely unacceptable and must be condemned by people of conscience of all faiths and none throughout the world.” 

More than a dozen signatories joined Rogers in a letter published by Hong Kong Watch on March 13, condemning Article 23 and expressing their “profound and grave concerns” about the direct threat it poses for religious freedom and the confidentiality of the Catholic sacrament of Confession.  

The Hong Kong Watch letter calls upon the international community, Pope Francis, the Vatican, and other religious leaders to raise their voices in defense of religious liberty and the integrity of the seal of confession in Hong Kong.  

A priest knowledgeable of the situation in Hong Kong, who wished to remain anonymous on account of the Chinese Communist Party, told LifeSiteNews, “This article 23 sends a chilling effect to Catholics, in the sense that they would not dare to be completely open in their confessions for fear of jeopardizing the priest also. Priests would be concerned that the government may send spies to pose as penitents and record the confession. Say the spy confesses a sin of treason and the priest doesn’t report, the priest will be prosecuted.” 

Another priest familiar with the situation of the Church in Hong Kong told LifeSiteNews that the island’s clergy will resist the communist government’s new security law and that the law will likely force priests to go into hiding to continue their ministry in an increasingly hostile environment, which mirrors more and more the persecution of the underground Catholic Church in mainland China.  

READ: Hong Kong law will drive clergy into hiding to avoid violating seal of confession: priest 

A recent 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.” 

According to a summary of the report, published on January 30, 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.’”  

Steven Mosher has told LifeSiteNews that for the Chinese government, “Sinicization” simply means the absolute control of religion by the CCP.  

“The United Front Department of the CCP, which is responsible for directing the activities of the Patriotic Catholic Church, will also try the same tactics on the Church in Hong Kong,” Mosher said. “Remember, ‘Sinicization means that all religious communities should be led by the Party, controlled by the Party, and support the Party.’ The CCP only allows religious organizations to exist if they agree to serve, in effect, as extensions of the Party. That’s what ‘united front’ means in the Chinese communist context.” 


Catholic diocese of Hong Kong ‘working with CCP’ to effect ‘Sinicization’: report  

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