CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Conflicting logic in diocesan Electoral Commission criteria

HONG KONG ( SE): Since the first chief executive of Hong Kong was chosen prior to the handover from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the diocese of Hong Kong has maintained the same position on placing its allocation of representatives on the selection body that has the final say in the choice of the top spot in the special administrative region.

The election committee has grown bigger over the years, but currently the Catholic Church is allocated 10 positions out of the 50 from the religious sector on the 1,200-strong body for its representation.

While Churches are free to decide their own mechanisms for choosing representatives, the diocese neither appoints nor selects them, but insists it only verifies their qualification.

The diocese has employed a mechanism whereby interested parties can put their hands up and it simply verifies the person’s affiliation with and membership of the Church.

If more than the maximum of 10 apply and qualify, the final selection is made by drawing lots, a process conducted by the returning officer in the presence of diocesan representatives.

The Church takes a position of opposition to the process of such a tiny group having the final and definitive say in the choice of the chief executive of a region with a population of seven million people.

However, a disagreement has broken out over what defines affiliation with or membership of the Church. Traditionally, the diocese has asked applicants to provide a copy of their identity card, baptism certificate and evidence of what it calls “a substantial connection with the Church.”

This requirement can be fulfilled by providing proof of membership of a lay or Church organisation, participation in a formation programme, some kind of service to parish or diocese, or a letter from the parish priest attesting to solid links.

While the third requirement is being described in some quarters as new, it is actually an expanded description of “a substantial connection with the Church,” a condition that has always existed.

Whereas the chancery notice of 2011 simply stated, “Evidence in support of a substantial connection with the Catholic Church,” its equivalent for this year adds a concrete description of what substantial connection means.

Nevertheless, some are saying that this requirement is too strict and that the diocese is retaining too much control over the process, which could filter out possible representatives in a manner which goes beyond the prescriptions of the Chief Executive Election Ordinance.

Stephen Sui, a university student, is claiming that the requirements of documented evidence of substantial connection gives too much power to the diocese.

“The new arrangements for this election really make people worry that the diocese will take an active role in filtering applicants,” he said.

However, the chancellor of the diocese, Father Lawrence Lee Len, told UCAN that he believes that it is understandable that a Catholic who has a substantial connection with the Church would be better representative for the Church than someone who only attends Mass twice a year.

He is sticking by his guns, saying, “If you cannot provide evidence of a strong connection, sorry, you may not be qualified.”

But Sui counters that it is not the duty of the diocese to add new requirements to a person’s eligibility since the Chief Executive Election Ordinance only prescribes that a person be a member of a religious community, not necessarily an active member.

“In this sense, any baptised Church member already fulfills the requirements unless they have been excommunicated,” Sui explained.

He maintains that if a Catholic does not participate in a parish or Church association, it is difficult to get the documents the diocese requires. Therefore, judging people in this way is a kind of filtering.

“It is particularly unfavourable for Catholics who struggle to find time to attend Mass since they have to work and also for younger parishioners who are more mobile and like to join friends in different parishes,” Sui said.

Lina Chan Lai-nga, the secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, told UCAN that she believes that Sui has a fair point.

“The diocesan notice emphasised that they will only be responsible for verifying the Catholic identity of applicants and presenting the list of names to the government,” Chan said. “The Church authority would like applicants to be practicing Catholics.”

The chancery notice spelling out the requirements was published in the Sunday Examiner on October 23 and asks for applications to be filed by November 7.

The diocese insists that it will do no more than verify a person’s membership of the Church and then forward applications to the returning officer, but the meaning of membership remains the moot point.

The Justice and Peace Commission questioned why the diocese is seeking actively involved Catholics to carry out a role of passive participation, when the Church does not take any position on the outcome of the chief executive race, so they will be representing themselves on the committee rather than the diocese.

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