Duncan Ho from Hong Kong, is a lawyer and a member of the Progressive Lawyers Group. He is also a practicing Catholic.

How you evaluate the attitude of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong toward the democratic movement?

If you’re talking about the movement against the Extradition Bill since June last year, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong has generally been standing alongside the people. Before serious conflicts arose, the Diocese already asked the Government to listen to the concerns of the people and not to press on with the Bill. After the police used stronghand to suppress the protests, the Diocese issued a number of statements urging the Government to establish an independent commission of inquiry on the serious conflict. At the height of serious conflicts between the police and the protestors, Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha went to the front line to try and act as a conciliator and seek peaceful resolution of the situations. Therefore, although a few clergymen have different views, the Diocese and the bishops have voiced out for the people and stood by the least of us.”

How Catholics in Hong Kong feel about not having a titular Bishop since January 2019?

All Catholics in Hong Kong would love to have a titular Bishop as soon as possible. However, more importantly, we also want to have the right shepherd to sheep us especially in this darkest time of decades for Hong Kong. As Hong Kong is already a fully developed diocese and not an apostolic administration, many of us are already unease at the decision to appoint an Apostolic Administrator instead of allowing the college of consultors to elect a Diocesan Administrator in accordance with Canon 421. We are most concerned if such decision and the current extensive delay in appointing the titular Bishop are the results of political interference from the Beijing Government in preventing Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha, whom we believe is a good shepherd and the natural candidate, from being elected. Most of us in the younger generation, knowing very well about the suppression of the Catholic church in the Mainland China by the Beijing Government, are worried that the religious freedom in Hong Kong is already being eroded.”

What are the signs that freedom of Catholic Church is eroded?

If you are talking about Hong Kong, there isn’t clear signs as those in the Mainland China. But as I said above, the appointment of an Apostolic Administrator instead of allowing the election of a Diocesan Administrator in contradiction to the Code Canon Law and the extensive delay in the appointment of titular Bishop cause concerns and speculations amongst laymen.

Police had once entered the premises of a Catholic church to search for and arrest alleged protestors without warrant or consent of the church. Although the Government and the police apologized for shooting water cannon at the gate and staircase of a mosque in another incident during the protests, the police insisted that they had the right to enter the church premises to effect arrest. There was apparently no immediate danger that requires the police entering on this occasion. It is alarming that the police and the government do not show due respect for the church and religious freedom which should be protected under the law.

The Chinese Government has recently decided to impose a new National Security Law in Hong Kong without going through the local legislature.  This is in clear contradiction to the principle of One Country Two Systems as enshrined in the Basic Law which is the mini-constitution of Hong Kong.  Whether this new Security Law is subjected to the protection of human rights and religious freedom guaranteed by the Basic Law is highly doubtful.  This new Security Law will criminalize activities and acts including secession, subversion, terrorism and interference with the Hong Kong’s internal affairs by foreign or external forces.  This is highly worrying as the Holy Father’s appointment of Bishop for Hong Kong and any directions given to the Catholic Church in Hong Kong can easily be regarded as foreign or external forces interfering with Hong Kong’s internal affairs.  The Catholic Church in Hong Kong may soon be facing similar controls and supervisions of the Chinese authorities as the Catholic Church in the Mainland.”

Last question. We know that former Bishop Cardinal Joseph Zen is very vocal in attacking China and defending Hong Kong democratic freedoms. What is the opinion about him among Hong Kong young Catholics?

I believe most young Catholics see him as a wise, brave and caring shepherd and human right fighter. He has extensive personal experience about the evil deeds committed by the Chinese Communist Party past and present. Despite his advanced age, he is still willing to stand to fight for democracy for Hong Kong and human rights and religious freedom in the Mainland. Yet, anyone who knows him in person knows he is a very kind and loving elderly. We can tell how much love he has for his people and the country and also admire his courage and determination in protecting and advocating for our basic rights, freedom and dignity.”

Article originally appeared in Altare Dei on June 1 2020