Vatican nod for bishop to succeed Cardinal Zen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 January, 2008, 12:00am

The Vatican has named Auxiliary Bishop John Tong Hon coadjutor bishop of the Hong Kong diocese, paving the way for Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun to step down.

The Holy See yesterday announced the appointment by Pope Benedict with 'immediate effect' after Cardinal Zen turned 76 two weeks ago.

According to canon law, the coadjutor bishop enjoys the right of succession.

'This means Bishop John Tong would automatically become the successor to Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun once the latter goes into formal retirement,' the diocese said.

Cardinal Zen applied to resign when he reached the official retirement age of 75 last year.

He has been a strong voice in support of democracy for Hong Kong, and has been seen as confrontational with Beijing and mainland Catholic authorities.

Last year, he took the unmatched step of joining the march for universal suffrage in 2012.

Beijing later ruled 2017 the earliest possible date for an open election for chief executive.

The appointment has raised concerns the diocese might soften its stance on democracy while seeking to smooth Sino-Vatican relations.

The appointment is a procedural matter paving the way for succession, though the cardinal can leave the post at any time.

Bishop Tong said he would be happy to continue working under Cardinal Zen.

'Cardinal Zen has been doing an excellent job in leading the diocese ... He is still in good health. I hope he will remain in office - the longer, the better,' he said.

He pledged to help the Vatican build bridges with the mainland.

'Our diocese and the people of Hong Kong have been playing an indispensable role as a bridge church to China,' Bishop Tong said.

'Following the guidance of the recent letter of [Pope Benedict] to the church in China, we will do our utmost to carry on our efforts.'

Bishop Tong said he hoped Beijing would guarantee full religious freedom for all Catholics on the mainland, which he said would enhance the mainland's status.

Vicar General Dominic Chan Chi-ming said Bishop Tong was appointed to share the pastoral responsibilities of Cardinal Zen.

'We earnestly pray that under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Zen and Bishop John Tong, we may ... bear witness to our faith, proclaim the Good News, promote justice and peace, and contribute to the common good and the wellbeing of society with a view to building up the Kingdom of God,' he said.

Born in Hong Kong, Bishop Tong holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Urbanian University in Rome and a master's degree in philosophy from Chinese University.

He was appointed vicar general in 1992 and was named an auxiliary bishop in 1996.