JUST IN: In rare move, Hong Kong’s Catholic Church appoints ex-bishop John Tong as acting head

Former Hong Kong bishop John Tong has been appointed as acting head of the city’s Catholic Church, a rare move following the death of the incumbent bishop.

79-year-old Cardinal Tong, who was head of the Hong Kong Catholic Church between 2009 and 2017, has been supportive of a new agreement between the Vatican and China, after diplomatic relations were severed in 1951.

Hong Kong bishop Michael Yeung, who succeeded Tong, died last Friday aged 73. According to the Catholic Code of Canon Law, when the head of the Hong Kong church dies, the auxiliary bishop usually becomes the acting head. However, they may not necessarily become the next bishop.

john tong

Cardinal John Tong. File photo: Hkdavc, via Youtube.

Currently, liberal-leaning cleric Joseph Ha is the only auxiliary bishop in Hong Kong. Ha “did not receive a blessing from Beijing,” Apple Daily cited sources within the Hong Kong church as saying.

Tong was appointed to the temporary position of “apostolic administrator” by the Vatican on Saturday. It was officially announced on Monday afternoon.

According to the announcement, Tong will govern the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong whilst the vacancy remains open, until further notice is given from the Vatican.

Catholic Church Hong Kong notice

Photo: HKFP.

In an 5,000-word article in 2017, Tong said it was not against the teachings of the church for Beijing to require bishops to be patriotic.

The Vatican and China reached a provisional agreement last September, under which Pope Francis recognised seven bishops initially ordained by Beijing without the Vatican’s approval. They had been excommunicated by the Vatican before the deal.

More to follow.

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