Tong wastes no time as new cardinal

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am


Bishop John Tong Hon was anointed a cardinal by Pope Benedict in the Vatican yesterday. He became the church's seventh Chinese cardinal and Hong Kong's third after the late John Baptist Wu Cheng-chung and Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

The 72-year-old wasted no time in expressing some of the Catholic Church's views on what should be happening in Hong Kong.

In a Lenten Pastoral Letter published in today's Sunday Morning Post, he criticised the government for using the principle 'market leads, government facilitates' as an excuse to shirk its duties to safeguard the well-being of its people.

Tong pushed for dual universal suffrage by 2017 - meaning people get to vote for both their chief executive and the whole legislative council ahead of Beijing's 2022 timetable.

The letter proposed a string of social welfare measures, stating the government needs to make 'tremendous improvements' in housing, medical care, education and retirement protection.

Tong even calls for universal retirement protection - something chief executive hopefuls Leung Chun-ying and Henry Tang Ying-yen shied away from in their campaigns. Building of Home Ownership Scheme flats should also be resumed, which Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has refused to do.

He also made it clear that the implementation of inappropriate policies by the government in recent years had directly or indirectly widened the wealth gap, and led to numerous social problems with the underprivileged bearing the brunt.

Tong also wrote about social tensions, especially between mainlanders and Hongkongers. He said the government only attached 'great importance to the economic returns brought immigrants, while neglecting people-oriented values' and that current policies had created 'greater social exclusion'.

Accelerated economic activity and integration between the mainland and Hong Kong had led to population problems and social contradictions - like mainland-born children being separated from Hong Kong parents and conflicts between mainland and local pregnant women over hospital beds, Tong wrote.

He asked the government to formulate a reasonable population policy, and to be people-oriented instead of just economically driven.

Tong said he saw his role as 'a bridge' for the church on the mainland. Beijing severed ties with the Holy See in 1951 after the Communist Party took power and set up its own church outside the pope's authority.