September 27, 2020
Hong Kong dissident Jimmy Lai, a devout Catholic, slammed leaders of the Vatican for renegotiating a renewed treaty deal with China, saying the Catholic Church has forfeited its moral authority by not doing more to protect religious believers in the communist nation.
Lai, a media mogul and billionaire, was arrested last month under a harsh new national security law that mainland China imposed on Hong Kong as part of an intensifying crackdown on political autonomy and dissent on the island. After a public outcry by pro-democracy activists, Lai was released on bail. Earlier this month, a court in Hong Kong found him not guilty of criminal intimidation charges stemming from a separate 2017 case.
“I’m very disappointed about this Pope,” Lai told Just the News in a video interview from his home in Hong Kong. “I’m very disappointed about what they did by extending the treaty, which is secret, nobody knows what’s happening. And during the last two years, what [Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader] Xi Jinping has done to religion is really horrible. And yet the Vatican is so pleased to extend the pact with them. I just don’t understand.”
Lai’s criticism was echoed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an op-ed for the online magazine First Things earlier this month.
Pompeo noted that Vatican diplomats have been meeting this month with their Chinese counterparts to negotiate the renewal of a two-year-old provisional agreement between the Holy See and China. The terms of that pact have never been publicly disclosed, Pompeo wrote, but the Church’s hope was that it would improve the condition of Catholics in China by reaching agreement with the Chinese regime on the appointment of bishops, the traditional stewards of the faith in local communities.
“Two years on, it’s clear that the Sino-Vatican agreement has not shielded Catholics from the Party’s depredations, to say nothing of the Party’s horrific treatment of Christians, Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong devotees, and other religious believers,” Pompeo wrote. “The State Department’s 2019 annual report on religious freedom provides an illustrative example in the story of Father Paul Zhang Guangjun, who was beaten and ‘disappeared’ for refusing to join the CCP-run Patriotic Catholic Association. Sadly, his experience is not unique. Communist authorities continue to shutter churches, spy on and harass the faithful, and insist that the Party is the ultimate authority in religious affairs.”
Lai told Just the News he converted to Catholicism in 1997 because of his devout wife and other family members. At the time, he said, he “was a bit nervous,” because he was told his conversion could make him a target for arrest by CCP leaders.
Since then, as the communist leadership of China has become wealthier and more aggressive against Hong Kong, Lai has urged the Catholic Church to support non-violent resistance in the tradition of leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Pope John Paul II.
“The Vatican is a supreme authority of moral standard, and the greatest power to fight against the CCP is moral authority,” Lai said. “Look at Hong Kong. We don’t have anything. That’s why we are always against violence. All we have is non-violent and peaceful demonstration, which gets a lot of sympathy and resonance from the world just because peace and non-violence holds such a high moral standard.
Lai said the Vatican “has forsaken the underground Catholic believers by signing the treaty with China,” and urged Pope Francis to cancel the treaty and instead push for religious freedoms, not only for Catholics but for people of all faiths.
“I don’t think that [the] Catholic Church can do anything if the Vatican already bows to CCP,” Lai said. “The Vatican should stand up as a moral standard and authority of the world, not just Catholic believers. We need the leadership of moral authority that [the] Vatican has forsaken. But we can each of our Catholic believers do our part. And that’s what we are doing here in Hong Kong.”