CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 11 August 2018

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There must be true dialogue on 
Hong Kong’s political polarisation

HONG KONG (SE): “The Church has no intention of making an intervention into the political affairs of Hong Kong,” Father Michael Yeung Ming-cheung said at a press conference held at the Diocese Centre on July 25 on a statement from the diocese on An Urgent Call for Earnest Dialogue and Responsible Action.

The diocese published the statement on universal suffrage and civil disobedience in response to the increasing discussion revolving around the Occupy Central Movement and growing dissatisfaction with the current governmental system in the Sunday Examiner and the Chinese-language Kung Kao Po on July 28, as well as in daily newspapers in Hong Kong on July 26.

The statement calls for genuine universal suffrage in the territory and an end to what it calls processes put forward by the government that are broadly representative in name only, but not in reality.

Father Yeung stressed that the Church only wishes to support the universal value of democracy.

The Occupy Central Movement proposes civil disobedience in an attempt to force the government to come to the discussion table and listen to the people.

It is calling for at least 10,000 people to take over the streets and block the city’s business district in early July next year, unless the government heeds its call for representative elections of both the chief executive in 2017 and the members of the Legislative Council in 2020.

However, Father Yeung told the media that the Church is not seeking to intervene in the political process, but it is calling on the government to enter into a genuine dialogue with the proponents of universal suffrage and genuine democracy.

He described politics as being the interaction of the people with the administration of public affairs and said that the statement from the diocese is an attempt to facilitate this political process.

While public discussion in Hong Kong has revolved around the validity of civil disobedience, Father Yeung said that there are times when civil disobedience is justified, so long as it is done in a non-violent way and in pursuit of the fundamental rights of people.

“It is not a sin,” he stressed, “so long as it is carried out as an act of conscience directed at preventing or removing a grave injustice or violation of fundamental rights.”

He explained, “I do not believe that civil disobedience is necessarily a sin, of it uses the breaking of the law to express a call for human rights.”

Although he explained that the diocese will neither encourage nor discourage Catholic people from joining the campaign, he said that for those who decide to get involved, be they priests, religious or lay people, the diocese will offer them assistance if they are arrested.

He said that this may be given in the form of legal representation or pastoral care if they are sent to jail.

However, Father Yeung added that the day may come when the diocese will encourage people to join the Occupy Central Movement, but in response to a question, he said that it would not encourage students in Catholic schools.

“That is also a matter that involves their parents,” he said, “and it is dangerous. We would not advise students to take such a risk.”

Father Yeung explained that he believes that, at the current rate of progress, constitutional reform is going nowhere and he fears that things may get a lot worse before they get better.

Explaining that at present he believes the government is using a delay tactic to evade the issue, he said, “A delay tactic is not a tactic. This is a constitutional issue and if it is not resolved, then issues pertaining to livelihood cannot be resolved either.”

He added, “If all means are exhausted, then the Church cannot stop civil disobedience from taking place.”

The support of the Church for civil disobedience is based on the interaction between the kingdom of God on this earth and the heavenly kingdom.

A well-known civil disobedience practitioner in the United States of America, Father Frank Pavone, interprets Jesus’ famous comment, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” as meaning that what bears the image of God belongs to God—in other words, all human beings—Caesar included.

Consequently, Father Pavone argues that both Caesar and the state belong to God, as the state exists for the person. “In this lies the basis of the Church’s no to the state,” he explains.

The Church believes that the authority of the state comes from God, so obeying the state is in a sense obeying God. The aim of civil disobedience is not to bring down the state.

Christians are required to be good citizens even in times of persecution. During the Babylonian Exile, God did not call on the people to overthrow the state—just clean it up.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that a human law possesses the character of law to the extent that it is derived from the eternal law, otherwise it can be said to be unjust and, as such, a type of violence.

It says that when this is breached, laws are not binding in conscience and authority is at risk of total breakdown, which invariably results in shameful abuse.

In this case, The Catechism is quite clear. A citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities.

But in any given circumstance how to make a judgement as to whether a law is just or unjust can be a thorny question, as few things are clearly black and white, but include smudged areas of grey.

The American civil rights advocate of the 1960s, Martin Luther King, cites St. Thomas Aquinas as giving one clear guideline. “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Father Pavone submits a guideline for civil disobedience and how it may be carried out.

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly and with a willingness to accept the penalty,” he says, contending that an individual who breaks a law that his conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty in order to arouse the conscience of the community over an injustice, is expressing the highest respect for law.

The man behind Occupy Central, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, said at the launch of the campaign at the Kowloon Union Church on March 27 that the underlying principle of the campaign is self-sacrifice, not causing a public nuisance.

He says it has the purpose of stressing the importance of universal suffrage in choosing a chief executive for the special administrative region of Hong Kong.

Tai is quite clear that those who join must promise to refrain totally from violence, submit willingly to arrest and be prepared to face the consequences. He calls it an exercise in conscientising the public.

 

As the movement is embracing more people and stakeholders in its campaign it will mellow as it becomes more representative of wider society, especially with the inclusion of elements of the financial sector already interested in joining.

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