Pope Francis omitted comments expressing concern over China's national security law for Hong Kong in a recent speech, according to Italian journalist Marco Tosatti, raising alarm for many Christians.
In a post on his website, Tosatti reported that the Holy See handed out a bulletin with prepared remarks by the pontiff that included his prepared speech.
The prepared remarks included comments on the China legislature's recently passed national security law that broadens Beijing’s direct control over Hong Kong and which many believe erodes the city’s human rights and freedoms. Pastors who support the pro-democracy movement have also feared that under the new laws they could be extradited and tried in mainland China.
“I have followed with particular attention and not without concern the development of the complex situation in Hong Kong, and I wish to show above all my heartfelt closeness to all the inhabitants of that territory,” the pope's original comments stated before they were changed, according to Tosatti.
It added, “I hope therefore that all the people involved will know how to face the various problems with a spirit of far-sighted wisdom and authentic dialogue. This requires courage, humility, non-violence, and respect for the dignity and rights of all.”
The prepared statement also included a call for “societal freedom, and especially religious freedom” to be “expressed in full and true liberty, as indeed various international documents provide for it.”
However, according to Tosatti, when Francis gave his remarks at the window of St. Peter’s Square, the journalists were informed that the comments pertaining to China and Hong Kong had been omitted from the speech.
“What is not known … is what sort of pressure Beijing put on the pope so that he would not speak on world television about the drama of the former British colony, even in the most delicate and peaceful tones possible,” wrote Tosatti.
In 2018, the Vatican and Beijing approved a provisional deal in which the Vatican would recognize as legitimate bishops appointed by the communist regime.
Chris Altieri, Rome Bureau Chief with The Catholic Herald, wrote in an analysis that the pope's recent omission has made many question the deal between the Vatican and China.
“The critics of the Vatican’s deal with China say it puts the Vatican in a supine position: it gives away the store. A more cautious view of the business would have it that the Vatican’s objectives are not to usher in a golden age of religious liberty on the mainland, but to stave off full-fledged, Diocletian-level persecution,” wrote Altieri.
“The unexplained omission makes it harder to defend the deal, and measurably more difficult to defend the Vatican—as this journalist has done—against accusations they’ve bent the knee to Beijing.”
Last month, communist Chinese President Xi Jinping signed the new national security law for Hong Kong, which aims to crack down on subversive activity in the semi-autonomous region.
Many human rights groups, including Amnesty International, oppose the law, saying it undermines the status of Hong Kong and curbs civil liberties.
Joshua Rosenzweig, the head of Amnesty’s China Team, released a statement in advance of the law being passed, saying that the measures were of great concern.
“Hong Kong stands at the cliff-edge of an uncertain and unsettling future, its freedoms threatened by national security legislation that could override the laws currently protecting the city’s inhabitants from the worst excesses of state-sponsored repression,” stated Rosenzweig.
“The Chinese government must abandon plans to pass a national security law for Hong Kong unless it can provide water-tight guarantees that the legislation conforms with human rights in all aspects.”