My Take

Catholic Cardinal John Tong Hon has more tolerant tone towards gays now

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 4:35am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 7:47am

Last year, Cardinal John Tong Hon used his Christmas message to denounce gay marriages, saying a real union could only be between a man and a woman.

That sparked a fierce reaction from gay rights groups. Yesterday, the good cardinal went back to reaffirming family values in his festive missive without explicitly saying what type of unit it should be or the sexual orientations of those in a union. What a difference a year makes!

That's because he has a new boss now in Rome and the new pope is not nearly as anti-gay as his predecessor. In fact, he is starting to sound rather tolerant.

Tong's previous message no doubt pleased his old boss Pope Benedict, who had described homosexuality as "an intrinsic moral evil" and "an objective disorder".

But Pope Francis made a splash this summer in the world media and sent shockwaves through the worldwide Catholic community when he said in Italian: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?" He spoke the word gay in English.

For this, the US-based gay magazine The Advocate has named him Person of the Year.

Now this is not to say the pope and our cardinal are anywhere close to accepting gay marriages. For all his liberal, politically correct statements, the pope has sounded a change in tone rather than in doctrinal substance.

But this change in tone is nevertheless substantial. For one, it is discouraging senior priests like Tong from denouncing gay marriages too overtly.

Homosexuality has been a taboo topic in the Vatican for generations and priests could only openly discuss the subject by denouncing it. That has opened the church to charges of hypocrisy. Pope Francis has made a giant leap into the 21st century.

And if the boss takes a more tolerant attitude, it's only a matter of time before the flock will follow.

Any doctrinal change for an inherently ancient and conservative institution like the Vatican is difficult.

The best that can be hoped for is that the new pope, through persistence, will prepare the groundwork for eventual and complete acceptance of believers who have different sexual orientations.