Francis omitted a paragraph on his “attention and worries” with regard to the semi-autonomous territory’s religious liberty following China’s new national security law, according to an embargoed copy of the Angelus address obtained by the South China Morning Post.
Critics said the pope is catering to the Chinese Communist Party at the expense of the Catholic faithful and pro-democracy pastors in Hong Kong, who could be extradited and tried in mainland China under the new law.
Others believe it was a calculated move to air his concerns privately as the Vatican attempts to renegotiate an agreement.
While the pope stuck to his remarks on other international concerns from the window in St. Peter’s Square, he completely bypassed the comments on Hong Kong.
“I have followed with particular attention and not without concern the development of the complex situation in Hong Kong, and I wish to show above all my heartfelt closeness to all the inhabitants of that territory,” the pope’s prepared comments read, according to Italian journalist Marco Tosatti.
The paragraph also said, “I hope therefore that all the people involved will know how to face the various problems with a spirit of far-sighted wisdom and authentic dialogue. This requires courage, humility, non-violence, and respect for the dignity and rights of all.”
The prepared statement included a call for “societal freedom, and especially religious freedom” to be “expressed in full and true liberty, as indeed various international documents provide for it.”
Tosatti said, “There is no official answer” on why it was taken out, “and theoretically, since the Bulletin is under embargo until the moment when it is spoken, and these words were never spoken, officially it is as if these words never existed.”
He concluded, “What strings is Beijing using to gag the Pope?”
Retired Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, a fierce critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal recognizing the appointment of bishops by the communist country, wrote a letter in March saying Francis was being “manipulated” on China policy.
“In Hong Kong, in all this time of turmoil, with so many young people suffering the brutality of the police, not a word from the Vatican,” Zen told the Crux newspaper in June.
“I’m sorry to say that we have nothing to expect from the Vatican. In these past few years, they have never said anything to reproach China for their persecution,” he said, adding that the Vatican is “always trying to please the Chinese government.”
Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.