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World News

Diocese: Catholic confessions to remain confidential despite Hong Kong security law

by Lydia Davies

The Catholic Church in Hong Kong confirmed on Friday that confessions made by devotees to priests will continue to be kept confidential, even under the city's forthcoming national security law.

Hong Kong has fast-tracked it own version of a national security law, influenced by Beijing's law from 2020, which was introduced after large democracy protests, some of which turned violent.

The new law, expected to be voted on soon, suggests a maximum jail time of 14 years for anyone who knows about treason but doesn't tell the police about it.

In response, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong emphasised its recognition of citizens' obligations to uphold national security.

It said in a statement Friday that it: "recognises that citizens have an obligation to ensure national security...but the security law will not alter the confidential nature of confession".

While the diocese had conveyed its perspectives on the legislation, it opted not to disclose these publicly.

Nevertheless, UK-based activist group Hong Kong Watch warned that the proposed offence could impinge on religious freedom, compelling priests to violate the sanctity of the confessional.

In a public statement they said that the offence "directly threatens religious freedom, as it would force priests to reveal what was said in the confessional booth against their conscience”.

Despite Hong Kong's common law tradition and distinct legal system from mainland China, authorities defended the proposed criminal offence, arguing its historical presence in common law jurisdictions.

Secretary for Justice, Paul Lam, highlighted the challenges in exempting certain groups like clergy and social workers from the offence.

Lam said it would be: "very difficult to create exceptions" for people like clergy and social workers.

The government reiterated that the measure was unrelated to freedom of religion, asserting that it aimed solely at safeguarding national security.

Following a brief public consultation and rapid legislative scrutiny, the security law is on course for prompt enactment.

Currently, approximately 390,000 of Hong Kong's 7.5m inhabitants identify as Catholic, according to the diocese.


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