It's been nearly 48 hours since I made public my decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church, based on what I felt were serious errors in its recent dealings with Communist China. The responses came thick and fast. Some praised my actions. Many others chose to defend the Church, and did so eloquently. Others chose to criticize me (and ironically enough, the most flippant and dismissive criticism was also the most apt, in my view). More to the point, however, no one has chosen to defend the Chinese Communist Party, for which I am very grateful. Meanwhile, I have begun examining the possibilities for a Christian community of faith I could call home - and who should charge out of the gate first? Why, none other than the Roman Catholic Church!
In particular, Pope Benedict XVI used a meeting with Cardinal Joseph Zen and some of his guests to single out Martin Lee, leader of the Hong Kong Democratic Party and arguably the most visible pro-democracy figure in the city this side of "Long Hair." As reported this morning (eighth item), the Holy Father exhorted Lee "to continue fighting for democracy in Hong Kong."
Now, of all the myriad dissident groups and resistance movements arrayed against the Chinese Communist Party, the Hong Kong democrats may be some of the least known (save their Macau counterparts). Moreover, because the Communists have allowed half of the city's Legislative Council to be chosen by city's voters, Hong Kong's democrats (including the Democrats) are just about the only dissidents in Communist China who have ever had to face an electorate. This means they suffer the ups and downs of politics, but because half the LegCo (as it's abbreviated) are chosen by Communist-friendly "functional constituencies" and the Chief Executive is chosen by a Communist-appointed panel, the democrats can never exercise real power. Yet they continue the struggle, and have in fact won a popular majority in every single election the Communists have allowed since the 1997 takeover.
Meanwhile, because the Hong Kong democrats are loyal Chinese who rarely visit the mainland (for obvious reasons), they have a much harder time getting their message to the outside world than both Taiwanese politicians and, ironically, a number of mainland dissidents, even as the freedoms they valiantly defend in Hong Kong are eroding under one country, one-and-a-half systems.
One of their best friends in Hong Kong was Cardinal Zen; together they knocked back the hideous "anti-subversion law" in 2003. In fact, one of my main problems with the Church was its apparent willingness (as I interpreted Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo) to put that all behind them. Well, there may be a better way exploding that interpretation than giving a papal audience and public blessing to Martin Lee, but I'm having a hard time thinking of one.
So why does this all matter so much?
It matters because the Roman Catholic Church is highly symbolic in nature, and is well aware of the power of symbols. The symbol of abandoning Taiwan in particular badly shook my colleagues and me over at the China Support Network. While I still consider ending diplomatic relations with Taiwan (or promising to do so, in this case) to be a strategic mistake, the Lee endorsement is a much more powerful symbol in my view (I don't know how my colleagues would compare them), for it shows that the disagreement over Taiwan (and the future of the "underground" Church on the mainland) is one of tactics, not of motives.
In other words, in light of this news, I think we were more than a little harsh on Benedict XVI. Disagreements on Taiwan aside, it's very clear the Holy Father considers his role as, at least in part, to stand athwart the Communist regime, not with it. One who chooses "fear over faith," as I was afraid the Church was considering, does not encourage Martin Lee to keep up the fight. Those who came to the Church's defense were right on that score, and I'm happy to acknowledge that my fears were misplaced. Mea culpa.
So does this mean I'm coming back? I'm not sure; I still think switching diplomatic recognition, whatever the motive, is a mistake, and I'm not sure I share the optimism many faithful Catholics have in the soon-to-be "unified" Catholic Church in China avoiding Communist manipulation in some form. Moreover, if these things are important enough to make me uncomfortable in the Church, my guess is I'm way off on its theological underpinnings.
That said, just in case this is a precursor to a Charles V moment, I will end with a question to all the wine connoisseurs out there: Which goes better with crow and words? Red or White?