A senior Cardinal in the Catholic Church has criticised the Vatican for staying silent on the situation in the former British-held territory of Hong Kong. Cardinal Joseph Zen, a fierce critic of the Chinese government, said that Hong Kong's autonomy and the democratic freedoms of its citizens are in grave peril as China attempts to usher in sweeping security reforms.
Zen, who was the Bishop of Hong Kong between 2002 and 2009, said he was "very worried" about the increasingly brash attempts of the Chinese government to tighten its grip on the region, noting that "a miracle from heaven" is needed if Hong Kong is to retain its autonomous status.
Hong Kong has been engulfed by massive street protests in the last year since the Chinese Communist Party announced the introduction of a new extradition law, which would mean that citizens of Hong Kong could be arrested in the territory but extradited to the Chinese mainland for trial. Protesters argue that this would put them at risk of falling victim to China's notoriously draconian criminal justice system.
Thought the bill was eventually withdrawn, the Chinese have continued to propose security reforms which may jeopardise the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong's 7.5 million-strong population. Speaking to Crux, Bishop Zen said he believes that the new law “is going to be much worse" than the originally proposed extradition bill.
“Surely it will damage our autonomy,” he said. “For example, about the implementation of that law, which organism is going to do that, and whether the offenders would be judged in Hong Kong, by Hong Kong courts, or to be brought to China.”
He added: "All these things make us very worried. It seems that this is going to destroy completely what they promised to Hong Kong in terms of autonomy.”
Cardinal Zen, who vehemently opposed the Holy See's recent agreement with China on the appointment of Bishops, lambasted the Vatican for its silence on the new security law and the related pro-democracy protests.
"I’m sorry to say that we have nothing to expect from the Vatican. In these past few years, they have never said anything to reproach China for their persecution,” he said, noting that the governing body of Roman Catholicism had "surrendered the Church to the Chinese authority.”
He continued: “In Hong Kong, in all this time of turmoil, with so many young people suffering the brutality of the police, not a word from the Vatican."
Zen went on to say that the Vatican is “always trying to please the Chinese government" before warning that this was a “foolish" policy "because the Communists, they never grant anything, they just want to control.”
Now, with the Chinese convinced of their right to rule over the territory, Zen said that the future of Hong Kong is looking bleak. "Surely little by little, our freedom will be eroded," he added.
As for the appointment of a new Bishop of Hong Kong, Zen commented that, due to the lengthy delay in the appointment, he anticipates the Vatican is acutely aware that a Beijing-approved clergyman would be a bad idea at this present time.
He added: "I don’t think that the choice of a bishop should be guided by these political reasons. So, we are worried. Maybe the Holy See is not following the criterion of faith, but is subject to political considerations, and that’s very dangerous for our diocese.”
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to launch a new visa for citizens of Hong Kong, giving them a "route to citizenship" in the United Kingdom should they seek to flee on account of China's legislative advances.
Johnson said the new immigration provisions "would amount to one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history."
He added: "If it proves necessary, the British government will take this step and take it willingly.
"Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life, which China pledged to uphold, is under threat.
"If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative."