Ad­vo­cate of China-vat­i­can di­a­logue named Hong Kong bishop


In a move widely seen as kow­tow­ing to Bei­jing, the Vat­i­can ap­pointed a re­tired China-friendly car­di­nal to head the Catholic Dio­cese of Hong Kong this week, ef­fec­tively block­ing the suc­ces­sion of the high­est-rank­ing serv­ing bishop known to be crit­i­cal of the Chi­nese govern­ment.

Car­di­nal John Tong will serve as the church’s in­terim ad­min­is­tra­tor in the semi-au­ton­o­mous Chi­nese ter­ri­tory of more than 500,000 Catholics, af­ter Bishop Michael Ye­ung died last week.

At a time when the Holy See is ea­ger for rap­proche­ment with Bei­jing, Ye­ung’s nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor, Bishop Joseph Ha, is widely seen as be­ing too out­spo­ken to be ac­cept­able to China.

“Just like the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Church doesn’t re­spect the rule of law, the Church has bro­ken with con­ven­tion,” said Willy Lam, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for China Stud­ies, Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong. “It’s di cult to dis­pel the im­pres­sion that the Vat­i­can has suc­cumbed to pres­sure from Bei­jing. With his past records of sup­port­ing democ­racy, Ha is not Bei­jing’s favourite.”

Car­di­nal Tong, how­ever, ad­vo­cated for the re­open­ing of Chi­naVat­i­can di­a­logue. In his an­nual speech on Mon­day, Pope Fran­cis praised the pro­vi­sional agree­ment be­tween the Holy See and Bei­jing reached last Septem­ber on bishop ap­point­ments, call­ing it the “re­sult of a lengthy and thought­ful in­sti­tu­tional di­a­logue.”

In re­cent months, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have re­newed their e orts in crack­ing down on unau­tho­rized houses of wor­ship.

At the Christ­mas Mass shortly be­fore his death, Bishop Ye­ung called on his ock to pray for the per­se­cuted un­der­ground Catholics in main­land China.

Some of the church’s lo­cal lead­ers in Hong Kong, no­tably Ha and Tong’s pre­de­ces­sor, Car­di­nal Zen, re­main po­lit­i­cally ac­tive moral forces who cham­pion pro-democ­racy ghts and other causes, both re­li­gious and sec­u­lar. Be­yond serv­ing the ock, the dio­cese runs many grade schools and high schools that are pop­u­lar with lay par­ents. e 79-year-old Tong re­signed as head of the dio­cese in 2017, as he passed the re­tire­ment age of 75.

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