HONG KONG — A looming deal between the Vatican and China is causing divisions between the Church hierarchy and Catholics in Hong Kong, which has long been a vital beachhead for the faith on the southern edge of officially atheist China.
Some senior Catholic clergy and Vatican officials have been urging groups of restive Hong Kong brethren in recent weeks to back a deal many fear will betray the so-called “underground” mainland Catholics that they have been supporting for years.
But some in Hong Kong fear any deal on the appointment of bishops in China could be a trap leading to greater persecution of underground believers as they come into the open, and ultimately to tighter Communist Party control of their religion.
Others, including some whose families fled the communist takeover of China in 1949, are angry the Vatican is prepared to do a deal even when some elderly bishops are in detention.
“Some just cannot believe the Vatican would do this, and it is shaking the foundations of their faith,” said one missionary priest with more than 20 years experience in parishes on both sides of the border.
“I fear some will turn away from the Vatican.”
The 12 million Catholics in China are split between followers of the state’s Catholic Patriotic Association, which operates independently of the Pope, and an underground community that swears loyalty to the Vatican.
Vatican officials say a historic agreement with China’s leaders on the appointment of bishops could help avoid further division between the two Catholic groups, even if broader diplomatic issues and human rights concerns are unresolved. Despite mainland reports that a pact is imminent, a Vatican source said on Thursday there is no timeline for a signing.
One former Hong Kong bishop, Cardinal Joseph Zen, has campaigned against the deal, saying he fears it is communist manipulation of the Church and has publicly sparred with Vatican officials. Another former bishop, Cardinal Tong Hon, has backed it.
Cardinal Zen said on Thursday that while he was still “heartbroken” over what he called the Holy See’s “betrayal” of Chinese Catholics, the unity of the Church should be a priority. Those without a strong opinion should “follow the line,” he said.
But if some turn away from the Church leadership, Cardinal Zen said he will not persuade them to change their mind. — Reuters