Even in retirement, Tong has role to play
Former head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong worked to improve relations between the Vatican and Beijing and he should continue to do so after passing the baton to Bishop Michael Yeung
Cardinal John Tong Hon kept his word in adopting a low-profile as head of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong compared with his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun’s outspoken advocacy of democracy and defence of human rights, political freedom and religious liberty. As a result, as he goes into retirement, he is more remembered for upholding the church’s traditional moral teachings and family values.
Ultimately, however, history may remember him as a supporter of efforts by the Vatican and Beijing to improve bilateral ties and for playing a role in achieving a breakthrough one day. His successor, Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung, says he will follow up the quest for better relations with Beijing.
Tong and Yeung sparked controversy a couple of years ago when the church took a position on district council elections that fuelled a backlash from gay rights activists and prompted the head of the Equal Opportunities Commission to express concern about mixing politics with religion. The church pursued its opposition to same-sex marriage by urging voters to take candidates’ position on gay rights into account, with Yeung adding that it would speak up against homosexual behaviour just as it would against drug abuse. This could have been misunderstood as denigrating homosexuals by linking them to drug abusers. Yeung later clarified reports of his remarks. “Even if children take drugs, their parents will . . . still love them,” he said. “I have the same feeling towards homosexual people.”
It is up to voters to decide whether to take into account a candidate’s views on gay rights. It was therefore good to hear Yeung say, when he was asked if he would provide advice to Catholics before upcoming Legislative Council by-elections: “I would not ask people to vote for a certain this or that candidate. We would encourage them to vote according to their conscience.”
Tong served three years beyond the retirement age of 75. We trust nonetheless that he will have a continuing role in bringing Beijing and the Vatican closer together. Meanwhile, Yeung’s pledge to speak out on human rights and the rule of law upholds our core values.