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HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — The government of Hong Kong published a new security law last Friday that will require Catholic priests to break the seal of the confessional by revealing any crimes of “treason” they hear confessed, with a potential 14-year imprisonment for those who refuse. The law is a direct attack on the integrity of the sacramental seal to which all priests are bound under the ecclesiastical penalty of an automatic excommunication.

The full text of the new domestic security law was made publicly available on Friday and included five more categories of crimes than had been previously made available for public comment. According to reports, “it appears it will be fast-tracked through the pro-Beijing puppet rubber-stamp legislature with alarming speed – perhaps within days.”

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

As detailed by Benedict Rogers, the co-founder and CEO of human rights advocacy group Hong Kong Watch, “The final text of the Bill… includes penalties for five types of offences which were not included in the public consultation paper. In the Bill, anyone convicted of offences with seditious intention will be liable for up to seven years in jail; a person who is found to have colluded with an external force will be liable for 10 years in jail; and a person who, without reasonable excuse, possesses a publication that has seditious intentions is liable for three years’ imprisonment. There are also penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment for sedition-related offences and four new crimes which will be punished by up to life imprisonment.”

He continued, “In addition, there are new restrictions which can ban an arrestee from speaking to a lawyer of their choice, detention without charge will be extended to up to seven days, more severe penalties for activists abroad will be applied, and all offences will apply to ‘anyone’ outside of Hong Kong.”

READ: Catholic Hong Kong activist defies Communist China, breaks bail to remain in Canada

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.”

Rogers pointed out the way in which the law has now criminalized the seal of silence to which Catholic priests are bound in the confessional.

“For the Catholic Church, what is known as the ‘Seal of Confession’ is exactly that,” Rogers wrote. “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.”

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.

Pope Francis and the Vatican must also speak out – if possible at the Angelus tomorrow – to pray for Hong Kong, to keep the ‘Seal of Confession’ sacrosanct in Hong Kong and to defend freedom of conscience in Hong Kong where it is most threatened.

It would be easy to think that the battle is lost. It would be understandable to retreat from the battlefield. But to do so would be entirely wrong. Now, when Hong Kong needs our support, our solidarity and our prayers in its darkest hour, we must not abandon Hong Kong. And as Catholics, we cannot surrender the sanctity and confidentiality of the confessional.

Setting the imminent passage of the new law within the context of the 2020 National Security Law and the resultant accelerated erosion of political and religious freedom in Hong Kong, Rogers declared that the new domestic security law “is even more draconian than the National Security Law (NSL) imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong in 2020.”

Detailing the dire situation in Hong Kong since the NSL was imposed, Rogers wrote:

The National Security Law has resulted in the dismantling of almost all of Hong Kong’s freedoms already. Most pro-democracy politicians are either in jail, in exile or threatened into silence. More than 10,566 people have been arrested since 2019 and 3,000 charged. Of these, at least 285 have been arrested under the National Security Law, including the 76-year-old media entrepreneur, British citizen and devout Catholic Jimmy Lai, whose trial is currently underway, and 47 former pro-democracy legislators and activists, who have been in jail awaiting trial for over three years. Their crime? Holding a primary election to choose their candidates in 2020 for what should have been the Legislative Council elections.

READ: Jimmy Lai pleads not guilty to violating draconian ‘national security’ law as ‘show trial’ begins

He continued, “Freedom of expression, association and assembly have been torn up; press freedom has been trampled on; academic freedom severely undermined; and increasingly, freedom of religion or belief threatened in insidious ways.”

Relating the “charade” of public consultation conducted by the government in Hong Kong in the lead-up to Friday’s publication of the new security law, and the popular resistance that was maligned and ignored by the government, Rogers said that “for the past month, the Hong Kong government went through the charade of a “public consultation” on the legislation. They produced a consultation paper – the contents of which were alarming enough – and invited submissions. But the reaction to submissions was telling.”

The organisation I co-founded and lead, Hong Kong Watch, made a submission. We also led a statement signed by over 85 civil society organisations, including some of the world’s largest – Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Index on Censorship, for example.

On multiple occasions in recent weeks the Hong Kong government denounced us – with official statements, as well as repeated remarks by the Secretary for Security Chris Tang who described our statements as ‘gangster tactics‘ aimed at intimidating, harassing and interfering with Hong Kong affairs.

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 confess a sin of treason and the priest doesn’t report, the priest will be prosecuted.”

Human rights watchdog Hong Kong Watch strongly condemned the new law, drawing attention to the danger it poses for Catholic priests. In a statement on the issue, the group declared:

The Bill is likely to place pressure on Catholic priests and other religious leaders to report information. Yesterday the Secretary for Justice Lam Ting-kwok indicated that priests should report individuals who confess to plans to commit acts that are criminalised under the security laws, in breach of the confidentiality of Confession. Failure to report a crime or a plan to commit a crime under the security law could result in imprisonment of up to 14 years. This undermines the vital principle of confidentiality of Catholic confessions and other religious practices, and explicitly threatens freedom of religion or belief in Hong Kong.

Statements of condemnation also came from Hong Kong Watch patrons Lord Alton of Liverpool, and Alistair Carmichael MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, as well as Rogers.

Lord Alton declared:

I condemn the Hong Kong government’s proposed new draconian security law, which is completely incompatible with and extremely threatening to human rights, basic freedoms and the rule of law. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its apparatchiks in Hong Kong continues its systemic and complete asphyxiation of foundational freedoms in Hong Kong. CCP diktat masquerades as legislation.

Carmichael wrote:

This is yet another backward step for human rights in Hong Kong under Beijing’s increasingly authoritarian rule. Hongkongers deserve better than this steady repression of their rights and democratic freedoms. Freedom of religion and belief is fundamental to any free society. The U.K. government must make clear that this is a further breach of China’s obligations to Hong Kong and push for Hongkonger rights to be respected.

Rogers said:

Today is a very dark day for the people of Hong Kong. We strongly condemn the published legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law and urge the Hong Kong government to genuinely consider our recommendations to the public consultation, as well as the more than 13,000 submissions which were submitted just nine days ago. The Hong Kong government should amend the Bill so that it protects human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law in Hong Kong, and is aligned with Hong Kong’s obligations under international law.

We continue to stand alongside the people of Hong Kong and raise awareness about the violations of rights and freedoms perpetrated by the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. We will continue to persevere and support Hong Kongers in every way possible.

In its 2019 document on the seal of confession, the Apostolic Penitentiary instructed that the obligation to keep the seal of confession is so grave that a priest must shed his blood before breaking silence. “The defence of the sacramental seal by the confessor, if necessary usque ad sanguinis effusionem [even to the shedding of blood], represents not only an act of dutiful ‘allegiance’ towards the penitent, but much more: a necessary testimony – a ‘martyrdom’ – rendered directly to the uniqueness and salvific universality of Christ and the Church.”

The instruction continued, “The confessor is never allowed, for any reason whatsoever, ‘to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner’ (cic can. 983, §1), just as ‘a confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded’ (cic can. 984, §1).”

So complete is the seal of silence that it includes “all the sins of both the penitent and others known from the penitent’s confession, both mortal and venial, both occult and public, as manifested with regard to absolution and therefore known to the confessor by virtue of sacramental knowledge.”

Rome concluded, “The sacramental seal, therefore, concerns everything the penitent has admitted, even in the event that the confessor does not grant absolution: if the confession is invalid or for some reason the absolution is not given, the seal must be maintained in any case.”

The seal of confession and its legal protection has been a live issue recently in Costa Rica and in the U.S. with five state legislatures debating bills that would remove its privilege under law: WisconsinUtahVermont, Delaware, and Washington. In 2019, the same kind of law was debated in California. Several bishops have now publicly defended the inviolability of the confessional seal, and Church history holds up the witness of numerous priests who have suffered martyrdom for their refusal to break the silence of the sacrament.


Washington bill that would have forced priests to break Seal of Confession is ‘dead’

Washington residents: Click here to lobby your legislators and bishops today