Beliefnet
HONG KONG, Feb. 18 (AP) - Hong Kong's Catholic Church on Sunday lashed out at the government's chief executive for calling the spiritual group Falun Gong a cult and expressed fears that the church itself could also come under attack.

In an article in the Sunday Examiner, an English-language Catholic diocese newspaper, Bishop Joseph Zen said Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's branding of the sect as ``an evil cult was very alarming, not only for Falun Gong, but for all of us.''

He warned that Christian organizations could become the next targets. Speaking to lawmakers earlier this month, Tung expressed shock over reports that Falun Gong followers had set themselves on fire in Beijing's Tiananmen Square last month and said the group displays ``more or less characteristics of a cult.''

He also pledged that authorities here would closely monitor the group's activities.

Falun Gong, which has attracted millions of followers worldwide, is outlawed in mainland China as an ``evil cult'' but it remains legal in Hong Kong. Bishop Zen said the suicides in Beijing by Falun Gong members ``seem to be surrounded by question marks.'' The group says suicide is against its doctrine and has denied the people who set fire to themselves were members. Zen said he has no relationship with Falun Gong and little knowledge of its activities.

But the bishop expressed concern that the Hong Kong government is attacking Falun Gong because of the sect's strong criticism of the Beijing government. He warned that Christian churches and other organizations in Hong Kong may also be labeled cults if they criticize the government.

Tung's spokesman, Stephen Lam, said in a statement the Hong Kong government was fully committed to maintaining religious freedom in the territory and that all organizations are free to express their opinion.

The statement said Tung's remark on the Falun Gong was in connection with the self-immolation of sect members in Beijing and added that mainstream religious organizations do ``not condone or promote suicide or self-destruction.''

In recent months, pro-Beijing figures in Hong Kong have escalated their attacks on the sect in the territory, saying Falun Gong disrupts public order through their high-profile protests and have accused it of receiving backing from ``anti-China subversive forces'' in the West.

But Falun Gong representatives often stress their peaceful protests are legal and vow they would continue them until the suppression in mainland China stops.

Zen called on Tung to ``amend his statement or at least accept that he owes us some reassurance.''

Last October, Bishop Zen accused Beijing of meddling in Hong Kong's religious freedom, claiming Chinese officials told the Catholic church to remain silent over the Vatican's canonization of 120 Chinese and foreign missionary martyrs.

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