The Catholic tycoon was a main financial supporter of Catholics who refuse to join the government-controlled Patriotic Association.
by Massimo Introvigne
There are various reasons why Catholic millionaire and philanthropist Jimmy Lai has been arrested on August 10 in Hong Kong.
First, the CCP wants to show to the citizens of Hong Kong and the world that the new National Security Law will be strictly enforced against anybody who dares criticize the Party. Social status, popularity, philanthropy will be no protection against the law. You criticize the CCP, you go to jail, period.
Second, the CCP signals that independent media in Hong Kong are no longer tolerated. Jimmy Lai owns the Apple Daily, a thorn in the side of Beijing. After boycotts by advertisers threatened by the CCP, and daily cyberattacks by hackers did not persuade the newspaper to change its pro-democracy stance, its owner has been arrested.
Third, and less prominent in the international media coverage of the event, Jimmy Lai’s arrest is a message to the Hong Kong Catholic Church, and a blow to the Catholic conscientious objectors in Mainland China, those bishops, priests and lay Catholics who refuse to join the government-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA). After the Vatican-China deal of 2018, Catholics in China are allowed and even encouraged by the Holy See to join the CPCA. However, the Vatican Guidelines of 2019 recommends that conscientious objectors who refuse to join the CPCA for reasons of principle be “respected.” This is not happening, and conscientious objectors are harassed and thrown in jail.
After the 2018 deal, most conscientious objectors receive no financial support from the Holy See, and their persecuted communities are normally very poor. But they may have received support, directly or indirectly, from Jimmy Lai. The tycoon once donated some $ 20 million to the former Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun. Part of this money financed the studies of Chinese priests in Rome, Zen’s own trips to the Vatican, and other good causes. But a part of the money was channeled into what was then called the Underground Church in Mainland China, i.e. the part of the Catholic Church that refused to join the CPCA. The figure of $ 20 million refers to the period 2005–2011, but it is widely believed that Catholic communities in Mainland China critical of the CCP may still be among the recipients of Lai’s charitable aid.
It is an old CCP tactic to strangle religious dissidents by drying up their financial sources. This tactic is now being used against Catholic conscientious objectors. Worse can come, as the Catholic Church in Hong Kong may be forced to incorporate itself into the CPCA, from which it has so far remained independent. For how long, it remains to be seen.