The apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Hong Kong has instructed members of the clergy not to include personal social and political views in their homilies.
“The homily is not meant to convey the preacher’s personal views (such as his own view on a social or political issue) but God’s message,” said Cardinal John Tong Hon, reported CNA.
In the letter on Aug. 28, Cardinal Tong told priests that homilies “must not lose touch with our daily life and the concrete situation of society.”
He released the instruction in the wake of a reported “crackdown on free expression” in Hong Kong following the implementation of a new National Security Law in July.
“A reference to or brief analysis of current social issues would often be helpful and sometimes even necessary for a homily,” said Cardinal Tong.
He said it would encourage the faithful “to bear Christian witness in social life and in social transformation.”
But he warned that “slandering and offensive expressions insinuating or instigating hatred and social disorder are unChristian and inappropriate for the liturgy.”
Cardinal Tong did not make any reference to the current political situation in Hong Kong but said priests “should be well aware that our faithful are all the time listening to what we say and watching what we do.”
He said the clergy must “be prudent and attentive” to the content of their homilies, sermons, and speeches.”
The cardinal earlier expressed support for the implementation of the new security law, saying that it will have “no effect” on religious freedom.
Since the new law came into force, people have been arrested on charges of sedition including a 23-year-old Catholic democracy activist.
Activist Agnes Chow was arrested hours after media tycoon Jimmy Lai — also a Catholic — was placed under detention on Aug. 10.
Cardinal Tong said a “church and its sanctuary are sacred places where the faithful come to encounter God.”
“In a critical time like today, our faithful are hoping to hear something comforting, constructive, and encouraging from the preachers during the liturgy,” he said.
The prelate stressed that through preaching, “we can help ease their mind.”
“This could not be achieved using abusive or provoking expressions…. Let us, in particular, watch our language,” he said.
A CNA report quoted a priest saying the cardinal’s letter “went down like a bucket of cold sick.”
The priest claimed that Catholics were dismayed by the pronouncements of the prelate.
“The youth of the Church is for democracy, they simply are. They are looking for leadership, and I doubt you would find any Catholic under 35 here who is not angry, and who does not see the chancery as siding with the people tear-gassing them in the streets,” said the priest.
“To pretend like we can sing a lullaby for a homily in these times is absurd,” added the priest who asked not to be named.
Another priest said the letter was meant to warn and create a “chilling effect” on priests who are vocal about Hong Kong’s political situation.
“The government sees the presence of very many Catholics in the demonstrations. They hear the words of [Cardinal] Zen and [Cardinal] Bo and they see the Church can be somehow supportive of civil freedoms,” said the priest.
He said Cardinal Tong “does not want the Church to become a target.”
“There is a line between supporting the freedom of the Church and even social justice, and making the diocese a nakedly political actor,” he said.
On the same day Cardinal Tong issued the letter to the clergy, the prelate stopped a Catholic group from staging a prayer service calling for democratic freedom in Hong Kong.
A fundraising campaign to place a prayer in local newspapers calling for prayers for the city of Hong Kong that “is under threats of abusive control” has been canceled.
The campaign was organized by the Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission.
“Although the diocese supports the kind deeds of prayer for Hong Kong, it does not support the method of fundraising and the content of the prayer to be published by this commission,” it said in a statement.
On Aug. 11, the Diocese of Hong Kong instructed Catholic academic institutions to explain the provisions of the new national security law to students.
Teachers are encouraged to “foster the correct values on students’ national identity” and to respect Chinese national symbols including the flag and national anthem.