Bishop seeks closer mainland ties

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 February, 2008, 12:00am

The newly appointed coadjutor bishop of Hong Kong offered an olive branch to the mainland church yesterday, saying he would like to help in seeking closer ties with Catholics in both the state-controlled and underground church communities.

Bishop John Tong Hon said he would like to be a 'bridge' between the Holy See and Beijing. He would be prepared to be flexible but would stick to Vatican principles.

'The principles are there. But there is some degree of freedom on how to interpret the principles or how to materialise them. I will not say if it is a milder approach or not. It all depends on how other people view it,' he said.

'But we should also hold up justice. We should endorse what is right and criticise what is wrong. We cannot scarify the principles in exchange for better relations.'

The bishop has been a close aide to Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, who is seen by Beijing as confrontational.

Bishop Tong is an expert on the Chinese church and runs the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a research institute whose primary task is to gather and analyse information about the church in China.

He was named by the Vatican last month to be the coadjutor bishop of the Hong Kong diocese, which means he will succeed Cardinal Zen. The appointment has, however, raised concerns that the diocese might soften its stance on democracy while seeking to smooth Sino-Vatican relations.

Bishop Tong hinted yesterday that he would not be as outspoken as Cardinal Zen on Hong Kong politics.

Cardinal Zen has been a strong voice in support of local democracy. Last year he took the unprecedented step of joining a march for universal suffrage in 2012.

Bishop Tong declined to discuss his political stance yesterday but said: 'There are many talents in the church. It is not for one single bishop to speak up all the time ... my role is to play as a bridge.'

Born in Hong Kong, Bishop Tong, 69, holds a doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Urbaniana 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.