Hong Kong Watch Challenges Vatican to Change China Policy

Catholic worshippers attend a mass on Holy Thursday, ahead of Easter celebrations, at Beijing's government-sanctioned South Cathedral in Beijing on March 29, 2018. A historic agreement between the Vatican and Beijing on the appointment of bishops in China could be signed as early as March 31, a Chinese government-approved bishop …
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty

ROME — The founder of Hong Kong Watch is urging the Vatican to overcome its “puzzling” unwillingness to call out China for its egregious human rights violations, Catholic News Agency (CNA) reported Friday.

Benedict Rogers, who is also the senior analyst on East Asia for the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said this week that any comment by Pope Francis would be immensely helpful for those being persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), whether in Hong Kong or on the mainland.

“I would say, you don’t have to speak out in a directly political way,” Roger said. “For example, I think it would go a long way if the pope were simply to pray for the Uyghurs, and Christians in China, and the people of Hong Kong, as he does for so many other parts of the world, perhaps during the Sunday Angelus or on some other occasion.”

“So I think if he could find the right moment and the right context to express his concern, and he can do it in a prayerful way, he doesn’t have to make a political comment,” he said. “He doesn’t have to say that it’s a genocide or any sort of potentially loaded terms.”

“But just praying for the people of China and, particularly the Uyghurs, Christians, and Hong Kong, I think that would make a big difference,” he said.

Last July, Rogers made similar remarks in a scathing article in Foreign Affairs, where he noted that prominent Jews were willing to call out China’s atrocities toward Uyghur Muslims while the Vatican remained silent.

The president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, drew comparisons between the ordeal of the Uyghurs in China today and the Holocaust, Rogers observed in his article, while the pope has refrained from using his moral influence to call out the abuses.

Nobody could see the evidence and fail to note “the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago: People being forcibly loaded on to trains; beards of religious men being trimmed; women being sterilised; and the grim spectre of concentration camps,” Van der Zyl stated.

“But one voice has been strangely absent — that of Pope Francis, ordinarily a powerful advocate for the oppressed,” Rogers wrote. “His silence speaks to the dangers of the deal made with China by the Vatican — and demands that others in the church speak out.”

“It is Francis’s silence that shocks me most,” Rogers wrote, adding:

Almost every Sunday, as he prays the Angelus, he rightly references some injustice somewhere in the world. He has spoken often in the past not only of the persecution of Christians around the world but of the plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar; the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and Nigeria; and religious freedom for all.

In this week’s interview with CNA, Rogers observed that Francis has “been very good on Myanmar, for example, and so it’s really puzzling why there’s this almost complete silence on everything to do with China, whether it’s the Uyghurs or Hong Kong or Christians or Tibet.”

But Cardinal Charles Bo of Myanmar, president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, has taken a different approach, and last summer, he released a statement, noting that in China, “the Uyghur Muslims are facing what amounts to some of the contemporary world’s worst mass atrocities.” He continued, “I urge the international community to investigate.”

Bo’s voice, and that of many other spiritual leaders, has made the Vatican’s silence all the more bewildering.

“I would also say that quite a lot of Catholics in China feel very confused and let down,” Rogers said.

“We’ve seen underground Catholic clergy and lay people, but particularly clergy, who’ve been loyal to Rome for decades at huge risk to themselves being asked by Rome to step aside in favor of Beijing appointees,” Rogers noted. “And I think that’s causing him quite a lot of hurt and confusion among Catholics in China.”

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