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Bishop of Hong Kong defends Vatican stance on human rights in China

Cardinal John Tong has written a 4,000-word overview of the possible Vatican-China deal (AP)

The Bishop of Hong Kong has released a document to quell the concerns of Catholics about the latest Vatican-Beijing dialogue.

Cardinal Tong acknowledged that some Chinese Catholics feel that “the Holy See has not openly criticised China’s policies on human rights and has not attempted to change certain political policies of the Chinese government”.

The Cardinal labelled this criticism as “unfair”, quoting a 2007 letter from Pope Benedict to Chinese Catholics in which he said the Church “will not give up striving for social justice, but the Church should not confuse its duty and jurisdiction with that of the government”.

The article continues: “The mission of the Catholic Church is not to change the institution or administrative agency of nations. It cannot and should not intervene in political struggles. Rather, it should realise the above targets through rational thought and the awakening of spiritual power.”

The cardinal addresses the fears of many Chinese Catholics about their government interfering with the work of the Church. This comes as Beijing has expressed its willingness to reach an “understanding” about the appointment of bishops in the region.

Since the formation of the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1949, the Church has had a tempestuous relationship with China.

Cardinal Tong expressed his belief that the Church must take its time to earn the trust of the Chinese people. He said: “[The Catholic Church] wishes to give time for the people of China to slowly come to know her, so that they will come to understand that she is not an enemy of the country or an outside invader. She has no hostility towards the people of China.”

The communist government is sceptical of religion. The government-controlled Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) is recognised as the “official” Church because its bishops are chosen by the government. There is an underground Church whose members recognise the authority of the Pope.

Auxiliary Bishop Ma of Shanghai recently reversed his criticism of the CCPA, although some have questioned the authenticity of his recantation.

In May, Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said Vatican-Beijing dialogue was “in a positive phase”.