Cardinal's hypocrisy on democracy undermines case for the vote

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 February, 2006, 12:00am

'The duty of the Catholic Church is to preserve the faith as it was dictated by Jesus. That would not be guaranteed [if the pope were chosen] by elections. While we do believe in elections, we believe it is the Lord who appoints the pope.'

Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun

'Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye', while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.'

Matthew 7: 4, 5

New English Bible

I HAVE ALWAYS been as much in favour of introducing real democracy to Hong Kong as Joseph Zen is but I am not a member of his fan club. I think he needs to read those verses from the Sermon on the Mount again.

Hong Kong has more democracy than the Vatican has ever been able to claim and I do not see how the cardinal can preach in favour of democracy for Hong Kong while preaching against it for his own church. His stance is seriously conflicted and it does the cause of democracy in Hong Kong no good.

But I suppose he recognises that there is a problem, which, I assume, is why he attempted to defend Vatican-style absolutism in an address to the Yuen Long Catholic Secondary School last week.

Before splitting hairs with him, however, let me make my own stance clear. I am an apostate. I once professed myself a Christian and now I profess myself an unbeliever. I was not a Catholic. Catholics lapse. It takes a Protestant to reject.

But I still understand Christianity and I can understand why the cardinal says that it is the duty of the Catholic Church to preserve the faith as it was dictated by Jesus.

What I cannot understand, however, is why he thinks that election of the pope by anything but a maximum of 120 electors in the College of Cardinals would endanger the faith.

If it is God who appoints the pope, then surely God can infallibly guide all Catholics as well as he can guide 120 men to choose the right candidate.

And if it is the cardinal's view that God would not guide all of Catholicism in that choice, if he believes that the faith could be endangered by an increase in the number of people who elect the pope, how can he be certain that God guides those 120?

From where in the faith dictated by Jesus does the cardinal have it on authority that a maximum of 120 men, themselves papal appointments, will indubitably make the right choice but that 12,000, 120,000, 1.2 million or 1.2 billion Catholics will not?

It all sounds to me suspiciously like our own 800-member electoral college in Hong Kong. Beijing trusts these 800 people to make the choice it wants of Chief Executive. It is reluctant to entrust more with the choice for fear that it will get someone who does not subscribe to its own ideological views.

Yes, I grant you, Beijing is not God. But if God does not make his choice of pope directly known, who can be certain that the College of Cardinals will choose correctly rather than choose someone who represents the narrower interests of the Curia? There is very good evidence that it was frequently the second of these two in the past.

The point, my dear cardinal, is that there is really no difference at all between the electoral practices of the Vatican and of Hong Kong. Both reject wider representation on the grounds of a higher truth that has never spoken for the methods they use to make their choices.

Do not get me wrong, Sir. Say all you want about how democracy in Hong Kong is mostly a sham. I agree with you. But take that clerical collar off your neck and put on a tie and jacket if you want to say it. The collar makes your comments smack of hypocrisy.

Much the same also goes for your stance against parent and teacher representatives in the running of Catholic schools. If you do not trust the members of your own church, who subscribe the money for those schools and whose children attend them, then let us hear you say so directly.

You may be right. It may be a measure that could subvert the faith. But let us hear from you, then, how you can be so certain that God guides you but does not guide your parishioners.

There are two other things I would like to hear from you, by the way. The first is an apology to our police for the offensive remarks you made about their conduct in keeping public order during the recent World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting. That apology is now long overdue

The second thing I would like to hear from you is a public pledge that, if you should ever in the future know of or even suspect the presence of a practising paedophile within the ranks of your clergy, you will immediately report all you know of the matter to the police. Say it.