31 March 2009

Chinese Chutzpah

Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Hong Kong

Imposter-priests have been with us for a long time. At best they are a nuisance, at worst can cause great distress to people, for example, who have gone to ‘confession’ to such a person. But at times you have to admire the ‘neck’ of these people.

One such is You Suibin, a young Chinese man who defrauded people in Hong Kong and in Macau, as reported in the 22 March Sunday Examiner, the English-language weekly of the Diocese of Hong Kong, edited by my Columban colleague from Australia, Fr Jim Mulroney. The story had already appeared on UCANews on 11 March.

The imposter claimed to be Fr Joseph Zhuang Zhoutan of Guangzhou Diocese. When he was found out, searches on the internet revealed his Chinese-language profile that gave his name in English as ‘His Eminence, Cardinal Francis Yau Hsui-bim SDB’. He was ‘ordained’ in 2000, so his ‘elevation’ to ‘cardinal’ in 2005 by Pope John Paul II is quite phenomenal! During his first five years as a ‘priest’ he managed to ‘study and serve’ in Britain, France, Germany, Poland, Spain and the USA. Quite a curriculum vitae, though it could also suggest that he couldn’t hold down a job anywhere! And all this despite being still in his early 20s!

Just over a week after I was ordained in December 1967 I celebrated Sunday Mass in Rush, County Dublin, where my paternal grandparents were from and where the Coyle family has lived since before 1800. After Mass I met an Irish priest(?) who said he was working in Fiji. The Columbans have been there since 1951 or thereabouts and I knew the names of all the men were there at the time. I was a little surprised when this man didn’t know any of them. However, being only eight days a priest I didn’t voice my suspicions to the parish priest. But he must have been an imposter.

I remember reading too about the late Bishop Cornelius Lucey of Cork having been taken in by the ‘Archbishop of Jamaica’ who turned out to be an imposter from Newcastle-on-Tyne, I think, in the northwest of England. A good rule of thumb is that Catholic dioceses are usually named after a city or town, even if one happens to be the only diocese in a country, eg, Suva in Fiji, Reyjavík in Iceland, Stockholm in Sweden. (East Anglia in England is an exception and the dioceses of Ireland go back to a time when there were no towns or cities there).

I’ve been ‘had’ a number of times by persons with (im)plausible stories, though never by an imposter-priest. (Real priests are prime targets of beggars, genuine and otherwise). The man I met shortly after my ordination didn’t ask me for anything. When you realize you’ve been caught you tend not to see the funny side of the situation, at least until the pain has subsided. But maybe putting ‘His Eminence’ before his name on his webpage was a ‘cardinal error’ by this young Chinese man. However, he was baptized a few years ago and is therefore a ‘son of Abraham’. And it is from the children of Abraham that we get the word ‘chutzpah’, something that You Suibin had in abundance.

No comments: