February 20, 2001
volume 12, no. 51

Bishop Warns Treatment Given to Falun Gong Could Extend to Church

    HONG KONG, Feb. 19, 01 (CWNews.com/Fides) - The coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong and local missionaries have said they are alarmed by growing restrictions on religious freedom in the former British territory which is now controlled by Communist China.

    In a speech on February 8, Tung Chee-hwa, governor of the former colony, described the Falun Gong movement as an "evil cult." Tung was commenting on recent episodes in Beijing's Tiananmen Square when members of the sect set themselves on fire. The governor added that he will not let anyone abuse the freedom and tolerance which exist in Hong Kong, although he rejects the idea of promulgating an anti-subversion law in the territory. Falun Gong is a spiritual meditation movement that gained the attention of Communist authorities when movement members organized protests against restrictions.

    "To call the Falun Gong an evil cult is alarming, not only for the movement but also for the Church," Coadjutor Bishop Joseph Zen wrote in an article in the Sunday Examiner, the Hong Kong diocese's Catholic weekly. "There is no commonly accepted definition of an 'evil cult'. An organization is labeled 'evil' only if it teaches against some important commonly accepted moral standards: restriction of personal freedom through physical or psychological manipulation of family values or endangering one's own or others' lives. The attempted suicides in Tiananmen Square seem to be surrounded by question marks. Falun Gong has declared that suicide is against their doctrine. If one identifies criticism of the government with evil, then the underground Catholic Church might be in danger of being branded an evil cult as well."

    Regarding the situation of the Catholic Church in mainland China, Bishop Zen recalls that "any kind of resistance and protest, even though peaceful, is not allowed in mainland China. Since Falun Gong chose to protest in a very public manner and the government had underestimated their strength, the sect was declared evil. The underground Catholic Church has escaped such treatment because their protest has only been low key and the international prestige of the Catholic Church cannot be ignored. But what has been done to the former could easily be extended to suppress the latter," warns the Catholic leader.

    "If Falun Gong is accused of causing disorder in Hong Kong society, just because of its peaceful protests, then such a label can be easily applied tomorrow to the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, to the diocese. and to many Christian bodies," he said. Bishop Zen ends by requesting that Tung amend his statement or accept that he owes the Church some reassurance.

    The Hong Kong media gave ample space to Bishop Zen's comments. On February 18 in its Sunday edition, the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's English daily with the widest circulation, criticized the attitude of the bishop.

    Missionaries in Hong Kong say the SAR government is closing in on the Catholic Church and her activity in education and social assistance. In December, the government accused Catholics schools of fraud for using public structures, rented as schools, for religious and not educational purposes. On January 30 the Minister of Education, in an official letter, warned the Grant Schools Council, which comprises 22 mostly Catholic and Protestant schools not to be too conservative in their education system.

    Moreover the Hong Kong Women's Christian Council, a Protestant organization, risks being removed from the list of charitable organizations and losing tax privileges, on charges of political activities.

February 20, 2001
volume 12, no. 51
News from the Universal Church
Return to Today's Issue