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An Open Letter To Pope Francis On China

Instead of compromise with Beijing, I urge you - Holy Father - to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and lead a revolution for peaceful change in China.
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Dear Holy Father,

Like every true Catholic in the world, I love you and respect your authority as the Successor of St Peter.

Like a great many people in the world, well beyond the Catholic Church, I recognise the beautiful message you, as Pope Francis, bring to the world.

And as a new Catholic who came into the Church little over ten days after your election to the papacy, my Catholic faith is inspired and intertwined with your pontificate.

I became a Catholic on Palm Sunday, 2013, received into the Church by Burma's first-ever Cardinal Charles Maung Bo. Although I am British, I became a Catholic in an Asian country emerging from dictatorship, inspired by a Church that has endured decades of persecution. I have also lived in China and Hong Kong, and have come to know and love Cardinal Joseph Zen, whose story is told, along with my other heroes, in my book From Burma to Rome, which I had the privilege of presenting to you when we met in August.

For all these reasons - because I love you, Holy Father, because I love the Church, because I love the people of China and Asia, because I love Cardinal Zen, and most of all because I love God and our Lord Jesus Christ - I humbly appeal to you to reconsider your proposed agreement with the Communist regime in China: before it is too late.

Over the past three years, the human rights situation in China has deteriorated dramatically. Hundreds of human rights lawyers, many of them Christians, have been detained, simply for defending freedom of religion and freedom of conscience cases. Thousands of Christian crosses have been destroyed. Many Christian clergy, Catholic and Protestant, remain in jail or harassed. Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners continue to be persecuted. Allegations of forced organ harvesting - targeting prisoners of conscience - persist. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo remains in jail. Hong Kong's freedoms are now in at tatters.

Earlier this year, the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission in the United Kingdom published an in-depth report, The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-2016. It was launched by the former Governor of Hong Kong Lord Patten, himself a Catholic, in June, and includes testimonies from Hong Kong democrats Martin Lee and Anson Chan, both Catholics.

Holy Father, you will be well aware of the arguments made by Cardinal Zen, which I need not repeat. I simply say that at this time, human rights are deteriorating drastically in China and I don't believe it is the time to compromise. At a time when religious freedom overall in China is being further restricted, when other religions are being severely persecuted, when organs may be being harvested, when lawyers are being harassed, when freedom of expression is being denied, now is not the time to seek a special arrangement for the Catholic Church. Now is not the time to kowtow.

Furthermore, while I am a very new Catholic, and so I write with all appropriate humility, two of the things that attracted me into the Church are the Church's commitment to justice and human rights, as set out in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and the Apostolic Succession. That means the Church must take a stand against Xi Jinping's brutality as it did against Caesar's, Stalin's and Hitler's. And it means that it cannot settle for anything less than complete Papal authority over episcopal and priestly appointments in China. I don't know what deal might be about to be agreed, but I find it hard to imagine Beijing agreeing to this. If it does, then I welcome it. But if not, I urge you to reject the deal. How can bishops appointed by a communist, corrupt, cruel and brutal regime be acceptable to the Church founded by Jesus Christ?

Instead of compromise with Beijing, I urge you - Holy Father - to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles, and lead a revolution for peaceful change in China.

With humble, sincere prayers from a relatively new Catholic,

Benedict Rogers

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