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Frances Hui in discussion with the Hudson Institute.X/Hudson Institute

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) — A proposed law in Hong Kong would be a “great threat” to religious groups, potentially prohibiting the Catholic Church on the island from maintaining contact with the Vatican, a Hong Kong Catholic freedom activist has warned.

Article 23 “seeks to fill in the loophole created under the National Security Law,” Frances Hui told the Hudson Institute last week. 

“It targets foreign organizations through activities in Hong Kong,” she said. “A lot of the small to medium-scale church groups, the Catholic Church, and foreign missionaries would all be affected.”

Hong Kong came under the harsh 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.

The draconian legislation would be expanded upon under the purview of the incoming Article 23, which adds new offenses to those already extant under the NSL. A four week consultation period for Article 23 was instigated on January 30 by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive John Lee – a process which Hui described as more procedural than meaningful. 

“We don’t know how they’re going to use this law to go against religious groups, but having this law passed and imposed in Hong Kong would be a great threat to religious groups in Hong Kong: they are subject to legal prosecution,” warned Hui. 

According to Lee, authorities “can’t afford to wait” to implement Article 23, since “some of the ‘independent Hong Kong’ ideas are still being embedded in some people’s mind and some foreign agents may still be active in Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong to be cut off from Rome?

Citing the Catholic Church in Hong Kong specifically, Hui stated that Catholic authorities “in Hong Kong might have to stop their communication with the Vatican because it’s a foreign state.” With such a communications ban in place, the CCP would then be able to move forward with annexing not just Hong Kong, but the Catholic Church there also, forcing Catholics to join the CCP-approved state church – the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA).

“So then you make the case of joining the CPA: they don’t have direct communication with the Vatican,” Hui noted.

The CPA, which does not recognize the authority of the Vatican, is effectively used by the Chinese officials as a means to effect the Sinicization of religion, ensuring adherence to and promotion of CCP ideals via the manipulation of the church.

READ: Pope Francis’ deal with Communist China has led to greater persecution of Catholics

As noted by Hui, “this whole process of Sinicization of religion is to transform a religion into their version, the CCP’s version of religion, that would be useful for them to control religions and control people’s minds.”

Hui – the D.C. Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation (CFHK) – is the first Hong Kong activist to receive asylum in the U.S. after fleeing for her safety following her participation in the 2019 freedom protests. The CCP authorities have now placed a HK$1 million bounty on her, under the terms of the NSL, and she has seen members of her family arrested by the CCP as a means to target her.

Thusly familiar with the CCP tactics, Hui suggested that “if they don’t like what you are doing and they have targeted you,” under the terms of Article 23 the CCP authorities would “have the law at their disposal to use that to threaten you and put you in jail.” 

“This is something the world and American gov’t should pay attention to and to speak up against it,” she urged.

Catholic leaders growing link to Beijing

Due the ever-growing reach of the NSL, Hui stated that one can witness “a pattern of using that law to stifle religious freedom in Hong Kong.”

She cited the growing danger of “self-censorship” practiced by Hong Kongers, including by pastors in their homilies and by teachers in schools, fearing repercussion for somehow falling foul of the legislation.

Hui recently authored a report on the state of religion in the city and the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), attesting that the Diocese of Hong Kong is now “working with the CCP to implement its control over elements of the Church, in a process known as ‘Sinicization.’” 

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

Newly created Cardinal Stephen Chow, S.J., who has led the Diocese of Hong Kong since 2021, 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.” 

EXCLUSIVE: Incoming Hong Kong cardinal highlights ‘dialogue’ between Vatican and Communist China  

In her report, Hui argued 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.”

This statement she repeated to the Hudson Institute, noting how Chow’s trips to Beijing to visit with CCP church officials there, and his instructions to Hong Kong clergy that they must do likewise, were all voluntary actions.  

Christian leaders, she stated, “are now volunteering themselves to say a lot of the things that are not needed,” and the clergy trips to Beijing were not under instruction from the Vatican but were due to Chow’s initiative.

READ: Head of Chinese Communist gov’t-run church accepts invitation to visit Diocese of Hong Kong

Rejecting the possibility that Chow or the Vatican was simply “naive” about CCP aims, Hui pointed out that in 2019 Hong Kong Catholic officials began moving their archives abroad out of safety concerns. 

Hui’s report on Hong Kong’s religious freedom is notably firm in its warnings about the stance employed by Cardinal Chow towards the CCP. She also cited the concerns of local Catholics about the “liaison office” which the Holy See hopes to open in China, as Hong Kong clergy fear such an office would be used to force them to register with the CPA.

This reporter contacted Chow on February 2, seeking comment on the details provided by Hui’s report. The questions posed remain unanswered, though LifeSiteNews is aware that the email has been safely received.