SCMP Tuesday, May 1, 2001
Catholic Church critical of Anson legacy
JIMMY CHEUNG and AMBROSE LEUNG
The Catholic Church has criticised Anson Chan Fang On-sang for not speaking up against Beijing, saying she does not deserve to be described as "Hong Kong's conscience".
An editorial in the Church's official Chinese-language weekly, Kung Kao Po, also challenged the neutrality of the civil service during her tenure as chief secretary.
The criticism came as Catholic bishop Joseph Zen Ze-kiun said the clergy had a duty to denounce injustice in the SAR. The Catholic Church has been outspoken against government decisions and comments on the right-of-abode issue and Falun Gong.
Bishop Zen also said it could influence society through members including incoming Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, although it would be a mistake to lobby them actively. The coadjutor bishop of the Hong Kong diocese said in an interview with the Post: "We have a role as a prophet in society. We have to judge whether things happening in society are right or wrong. It is the Church's teaching that we should uphold those that are just and condemn those that are unjust."
Kung Kao Po applauded Mrs Chan for sometimes speaking up for Hong Kong, but said there had been limits. "Throughout her service, have we ever heard any advice tendered by her without fear or favour? Have we ever heard her saying 'no' to Beijing?"
The editorial queried how many bureaucrats, including Mrs Chan, could stand up against their bosses. Mrs Chan, who stepped down as chief secretary for administration yesterday after 39 years of service, urged her colleagues in a farewell speech to advise their bosses without fear or favour. She also called for early talks on democracy.
The Catholic newspaper's editorial said her speech had been "up to standard" but there had been a tendency to "over-praise her by describing her as the conscience of Hong Kong". It challenged the civil service's record of political neutrality, underlined by Mrs Chan. "One can find out whether it's true or false by referring to what the Secretary for Security has said and done," it read.
Kung Kao Po has condemned security chief Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee for her verbal attacks on Falun Gong, saying she is guilty of defaming the sect. The weekly said the best guarantee of the integrity of the civil service would be the introduction of more democracy and a system of accountability.
"These are not something that can be substituted by Mrs Chan's advocacy for tendering advice without fear and favour," it said.
The editorial said the rule of law and judicial independence commended by Mrs Chan had long been "discounted" following Beijing's move to resolve the right-of-abode saga by reinterpreting the Basic Law in 1999. It also pointed to the decision not to prosecute media tycoon Sally Aw Sian in a circulation-fraud case.
The Catholic Church's diocesan synod, a once-in-a-decade meeting, recently drew up recommendations for the Church's future direction, including greater participation in public affairs.
"The Church should . . . proclaim what is right and condemn evil and injustice," the document said."Church leaders should speak up on social justice or influential social events when appropriate, acting as a social conscience and moral force."
Subject to formal ratification by the synod, the recommendations will be tabled to Cardinal John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung for his likely approval before November.
But although the Church is to take a more active role in social affairs, Bishop Zen said it did not represent a great leap forward. He said the Church in Hong Kong had been active in speaking out against injustice since the 1970s.
One example was the creation of the Justice and Peace Commission in 1977, which became a target of criticism for helping right-of-abode seekers in protests. The bishop conceded that in the past, church leaders had been at odds with the commission on some issues. He said there was no need for the Church to have one official voice on matters of concern since it offered more flexibility for church leaders and bodies such as the commission to give their own reactions.
The Church counts among its members prominent figures such as the new Chief Secretary, Mr Tsang; the Secretary for Housing, Dominic Wong Shing-wah; and Democrat leader Martin Lee Chu-ming. Bishop Zen said it was possible to influence society through their membership.
"But we should be very careful in these matters," he said. "Is it suitable to lobby them frequently and in high-profile? I think it should be avoided because people might then say the Church wants to control the Government."
The Church had no plan to forge closer ties with pro-Beijing figures, he said, because it could be also be misinterpreted as political interference.