Cardinal John Tong Hon steers clear of controversy with Christmas speech

Annual speech focuses on the family and steers clear of hot-button issues such as gay marriage and political reform, in contrast to past years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 December, 2013, 7:47am

The leader of the Catholic Church in the city chose to steer clear of controversial issues such as political reform and gay marriage and instead called for the strengthening of family ties in his Christmas message this year.

Cardinal John Tong Hon, the bishop of Hong Kong's Catholic diocese, gave a speech yesterday in stark contrast to the one he gave last Christmas when he reaffirmed the church's position that marriage should be between a man and a woman and called for universal suffrage and improvements in housing, medical services, education and retirement protection policies.

In 2010 he appealed for the release of jailed mainland rights activists Liu Xiaobo and Zhao Lianhai.

Yesterday, he touched on social problems relating to families including divorce, lack of parental care for children and misbehaviour among the young.

"To address this series of questions effectively as a society, each one of us needs to commit ourselves to reinforcing family values, and strengthen what binds us into a family," he said.

Without touching on the political reform debate, he said: "Our hope is that celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ will help us work together in building happy families and a free, democratic society."

The cardinal's message this year struck a less controversial note than that made by another religious leader, Paul Kwong, the Anglican Archbishop of Hong Kong and Macau. Kwong on Thursday lashed out at the "discrimination, xenophobia and Hongkongers first" attitude of some politicians who advocate restrictions on immigrants from the mainland.

Dominic Yung Yuk-yu, director of the Catholic Social Communications Office, declined to comment on whether the cardinal had chosen not to touch on contentious issues for a particular reason. He said the cardinal's past messages had not been about public affairs.

"He has mostly been talking about internal matters of the church in Hong Kong in Christmas messages," Yung said.

But a source familiar with the situation said church officials were of the view that the church had already said what it wanted to say on politics this year when it issued a statement in July urging the government to implement "one man, one vote" for both the chief executive and Legislative Council elections, and when its vicar-general Michael Yeung Ming-cheung said the church would offer help to Catholics if they were prosecuted for joining the Occupy Central movement.

As one of the front runners to succeed the cardinal, who will reach retirement age next year, Yeung has been showing a more liberal face in public after he was criticised for apologising to tycoon Li Ka-shing over comments made by a priest in 2010.

More recently he came under fire after Caritas, the charity of which he is director, allegedly told its staff to watch broadcaster TVB's anniversary gala after the station pledged donations.