A leader of mainland China's state-sanctioned Catholic church on Friday urged Hong Kong's top Roman Catholic cleric to support government efforts to enact a contentious anti-subversion law.
"We hope Hong Kong's church will be patriotic and love the law," said Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan, who heads the government-controlled organization that oversees the state-sanctioned Catholic church.
Hong Kong's Roman Catholic church Bishop Joseph Zen is an outspoken critic of the governments in Beijing and Hong Kong. He has accused mainland China of tightening repressive controls against Roman Catholics, a move he says could affect church followers in Hong Kong if the anti-subversion bill now before the local legislature is enacted.
"We clerics must have a patriotic spirit," Fu told reporters on the sidelines of the annual session of the national legislature.
Asked if he believed Zen had gone too far in expressing his opposition to the proposed law, Fu said, "No matter how high our position, we must render unto God the things which are God's and unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's," referring to a biblical verse often used to describe the separate spiritual and worldly loyalties.
Zen, who has been barred from the mainland since 1998, contends that a section of the law could be used to suppress Hong Kong groups deemed to be "subordinate" to organizations banned in the mainland because they are judged to be a threat to national security. In particular, he fears the law might be used against Hong Kong's Roman Catholic church because of its ties to underground Catholic churches in the mainland.
In Hong Kong, Zen's office issued a statement saying he believed that expressing worries about the planned anti-subversion law and the way it was drafted was "patriotic."
It said Zen "thought it strange that the mainland church would interfere with Hong Kong's internal affairs," but that he understood that Fu faces certain "constraints" on the mainland.
Catholics and other Christians in communist mainland China are required to attend churches sanctioned by the state, although scholars estimate that roughly half of the 12 million Chinese Catholics worship in underground churches loyal to the Vatican, risking arrest.
The 347,000 Roman Catholics living in Hong Kong can worship freely under an autonomy arrangement devised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Fu, considered a party stalwart, said the anti-subversion bill, which would outlaw subversion, sedition and other crimes against the state, was for Hong Kong's own stability and prosperity.
"We need to protect our great motherland's stability and security," Fu said.