Cardinal John Tong Hon, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, has dismissed concerns that the national security and sedition laws imposed on the semi-autonomous city by Beijing will affect religious freedom.
Cardinal Tong said he “personally believes” that the controversial laws “will have no effect on religious freedom,” noting that the region’s Basic Law guarantees “freedom of religion.”
The prelate told the local paper Kung Kao Po that church leaders “can also openly preach and hold religious ceremonies and participate in religious activities.”
On May 28, the Chinese legislature approved a resolution imposing “security laws” on Hong Kong that will criminalize anything Beijing considers “foreign interference,” secessionist activities, or subversion of state power.
Hong Kong is a former British colony, and since the 1997 handover, it has had broad protections for the freedom of worship and for evangelization compared to mainland China.
Cardinal Tong also dismissed fears that the new laws would regard the local church’s relationship with the Vatican as “collusion with foreign forces.”
He said the relationship between the Catholic Church in Hong Kong and the Holy See “should be regarded as an internal matter” and not a “foreign interference.”
Last week, a group of Catholic faithful in Hong Kong initiated a signature campaign opposing the new laws that they claimed threatens to undermine religious freedom.
The group said the measures aimed to prevent activities of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces could lead to branding Pope Francis as a “foreign power.”
Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, retired bishop of Hong Kong, has been very vocal against the new law that he said could be used to curtail the freedom of religion that Christians enjoy.
In a Catholic News Agency interview, Cardinal Zen said, “There is no more ‘one country, two systems.’ [China] didn’t dare to say it in those exact words, but the fact is there.”
The See of Hong Kong has been in a state of “Sede Vacante” or a diocese without a bishop since Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung died in January 2019.
Cardinal Tong Hon, who retired in 2017, was temporarily appointed as “caretaker” of the diocese while the Vatican is in the process of selecting a new bishop.