Former Vatican Envoy to Hong Kong Warns of China’s Crackdown

A Vatican representative who recently concluded a six-year informal position in Hong Kong has told Catholic missions there to brace for an even grimmer future as civil liberties continue to crumble in the former British colony.

Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception (Photo by Kountryaoo, Creative Commons)
Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception (Photo by Kountryaoo, Creative Commons)

In four private meetings held over several months starting in October, whose details have only recently been reported, Monsignor Javier Herrera-Corona urged Catholic missionaries in Hong Kong to protect the property, documents and funds of the city’s 50-odd Catholic missions as China tightens political and security controls over the city, according to a July 5 Reuters article.

Citing four confidential sources familiar with the private meetings, the news agency reports that the 54-year-old prelate warned of threats to religious freedom as Hong Kong integrates more closely with mainland China over the next few years.

“Change is coming, and you’d better be prepared,” said Herrera-Corona. Originally from Mexico, the prelate left Hong Kong in March to assume a new post in the Republic of Congo and Gabon for which he has been elevated to archbishop. He headed an unofficial mission in Hong Kong that has been the Vatican’s sole representation in China since diplomatic ties with the communist country were severed in 1951.

One Reuters source relayed that the essence of the monsignor’s message was “Hong Kong is not the great Catholic beachhead it was.”

Once known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” Hong Kong has been subjected to an alarming erosion of liberties. Under a draconian 2020 national security law aimed at quelling anti-government protests, “collusion with foreign forces” is now classified as a crime, resulting in the imprisonment of former legislators, journalists, labor leaders and dozens of pro-democracy activists.

In May, Hong Kong police arrested Cardinal Joseph Zen, the bishop emeritus of Hong Kong, on charges of helping pro-democracy activists in financial need. A 90-year-old mainland-born Catholic, Zen is known for his often vocal condemnation of Chinese authorities and fearless advocacy of religious freedom for Catholics in China.

Herrera-Corona told his colleagues in the meetings that key protections for religious institutions in Hong Kong’s Basic Law, which outlines different economic and political systems for the city than those of mainland China, are no longer an adequate safeguard against the mounting pressure from Beijing.

The law, which was agreed upon and signed as part of the handover of power over Hong Kong from the UK to China, prohibits government restrictions on religious freedom and interference in the affairs of religious organizations. It also extends property and charitable rights and the freedom of religious groups to “maintain and develop their relations with religious organizations and believers elsewhere.”


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China Hong Kong Monsignor Javier Herrera-Corona 2020 national security law Hong Kong’s Basic Law