Occupy Central

New Catholic bishops say civil disobedience OK if for common good

Newly appointed auxiliary bishops, two Catholic clergymen suggest Occupy Central could be just, while third weighs in on reform report

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 5:21am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 11:34am

Two auxiliary bishops newly appointed by the Vatican have spoken out about the Occupy Central campaign, saying the church supports civil disobedience when it's for the common good.

A third new auxiliary bishop meanwhile said the Hong Kong Catholic diocese had come under pressure from the government to consider shutting down its outspoken Justice and Peace Commission because it has been critical of the administration.

The bishop, the Reverend Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, also weighed in on politics, saying he wanted the government to hold off on submitting to Beijing its report on a five-month public consultation on electoral reform.

The three were speaking yesterday after they were named auxiliary bishops on Friday.

The news came after Pope Francis asked Cardinal John Tong Hon to stay on as bishop of Hong Kong for another three years, even though he is nearing the retirement age of 75.

Yeung said postponing the submission of the electoral reform report would provide more time for communication.

"Lots of [people] have said that there's no rush to submit the report to the National People's Congress. So waiting could mean more time for dialogue - and more chance for progress," Yeung said.

He said Hong Kong government officials had since the handover asked him to consider closing down the Justice and Peace Commission because it had been critical of the administration - a suggestion he said he flatly rejected.

The government declined to comment on Yeung's remarks.

Yeung, 68, is vicar general of the city's diocese and considered more experienced in the church's administrative affairs than the other two new auxiliary bishops - the Reverend Stephen Lee Sang-bun, 57, and the Reverend Joseph Ha Chi-shing, 55.

Ha, who joined Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun on the July 1 pro-democracy march, had a message for anyone planning to join the Occupy Central action: be mindful to keep any disruption in proportion to the cause.

Organisers are threatening to mobilise 10,000 supporters to block main roads in Central if the government does not propose truly democratic electoral reform for the chief executive election in 2017, the first Beijing has said may be held under universal suffrage.

"The church is very clear on this," Ha said. "Civil disobedience is allowed when … the authorities - which should be acting for the common good of society according to moral principles - are not acting for the common good, or if there is an unjust law." Lee agreed with that sentiment.

Ha also shot down a comment made last Sunday by Anglican Church Archbishop the Most Reverend Dr Paul Kwong that Hongkongers should keep quiet just as "Jesus remained silent" in the face of crucifixion.

"The Bible is very thick," Ha said, adding that there was nothing wrong with expressing one's views in a lawful manner.

Yeung said the church would neither encourage nor stop Catholics from joining Occupy Central, but that it would offer help to anyone arrested.

The auxiliary bishops were appointed late last month, and will be ordained next month.