Time for church to render unto Caesar

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 January, 2012, 12:00am


On most topics, a columnist like yours truly gets a few responses at most, but write something naughty about the Catholic and Anglican churches and the faithful will, without fail, rally to the cause and put you in your place.

A recent My Take column commented on the churches' stubbornness in refusing to implement management changes in schools under their care, as mandated by law. I was denounced as a stooge of Beijing, a hater of religion and an ignorant man. I plead guilty to the last charge, but not the first two. A prescient writer surmised correctly that I must be a lapsed Catholic and urged me to return to the flock.

They take me far too seriously. I was merely repeating the court's judgment - namely, that the government's schools reform does not interfere with religious freedom, and the 100 per cent control demanded by the Catholic Church over school management was not a constitutional right guaranteed under the Basic Law. The church - led by Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, now retired - has lost every court challenge, the last in the Court of Final Appeal. It's time to give up and render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's.

If the churches can't do this for reasons of religious conscience, they can start running their own schools with their own money instead of taxpayers'. By switching their schools to private or direct subsidy status, they will be exempt from the reform requirement. What they can't do is to have it both ways - take all the money but refuse to follow the law.

Zen fancies himself a fighter for democracy, but a true democracy upholds the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Last time I checked, our courts were still independent. The good cardinal cannot claim, without being a hypocrite, to support democracy and then flout a law reaffirmed by the courts. But that has always been the danger of religions: they think they are above the law.