Vatican’s Choice of Hong Kong Bishop Charts Course Independent of Beijing

By Bree Dail
Bree Dail
Bree Dail
June 8, 2021 Updated: June 8, 2021

News Analysis

VATICAN—After two years of consultation, the Holy See announced on May 17 that Pope Francis has selected Jesuit Stephen Chow Sau-yan as the next Bishop of Hong Kong, passing over the individual said to be Beijing’s choice for the position.

Chow, 62, a native of Hong Kong, has been the Provincial (or head) of the Jesuit Order in China, along with having been a professor at a number of universities and educational institutions. Chow holds a number of licenses and advanced degrees, including a doctorate of Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University.

Speaking with The Epoch Times when the nomination was announced, Cardinal Joseph Zen, a former Bishop of Hong Kong, stated, “I do not know him [Bishop elect, Father Chow] very well, but at least the Vatican did not choose the one blessed by Beijing—Father Peter Choy Wai-man. For this alone, it is already a good thing.”

In an exclusive 2-part interview with the National Catholic Register, while in Rome last year, Cardinal Zen expressed his concerns over machinations of the CCP to influence the next Bishop of Hong Kong.

“To have ‘the blessing of Beijing’ means, today, with the national security law, to support their goal—which is to silence any voice claiming freedom and democracy,” the Cardinal Emeritus of Hong Kong stated.

Epoch Times Photo
Cardinal Joseph Zen, former Bishop of Hong Kong, speaks during a press conference at the Salesian House of Studies in Hong Kong on Sept. 26, 2018. (Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)

Similar sentiments were echoed by lay faithful in China, some who took to social media to express their support—and their warnings.

A layman writing under the name “Peter,” who, sources say, works within the diocese of Hong Kong, wrote “I am pleased to learn that Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan, the Provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus, was appointed by Pope Francis as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong. Father Chow has talents and integrity, diligence, and rich spiritual knowledge, which I believe can bring to the Diocese a new vision!”

Peter went on to express a warning, however, to the incoming Bishop. “Father Choy has been called ‘The dynasty son and courtier.’ As early as when Cardinal John Tong Hon was serving as Bishop of Hong Kong, Father Choy learned he had a good chance of succeeding him. He desperately placed his cronies to serve in different institutions in the diocese. The most obvious example is the individual he appointed as the editor-in-chief of the Kong Kao Po Weekly (the diocesan newspaper) last year.”

Peter continued, “This is like the old courtier in ancient times, even though he has abdicated, he still tries his best to place his confidant next to the emperor, desperately wanting to influence the emperor’s policies, and even dominate and control the emperor.”

Peter concluded, “I hope that diocesan councils will communicate with the new bishop as soon as possible to correct improper appointments by Father Choy. Any appointment of personnel that has not been approved and confirmed by the new bishop should be considered invalid.”

The Epoch Times reached out to Fr. Peter Choy for comment, and received a response from the social communications director for the diocese, stating that “Rev. Choy is not prepared to respond to unfounded allegations.”

In a news conference on May 18, Chow addressed what seem to be serious fractures and “disunity” within his diocese. When asked what measure he would take to bring about new “unity,”

Chow commented he had “no big plan”, although he said he believes God wants unity in what has become an increasingly polarized church. “Unity is not the same as uniformity,” Chow continued. “One thing I’ve always mentioned recently in schools is unity is plurality. We need to respect plurality.”

In an interview with South China Morning Post, dated Sept. 12, 2020, Chow echoed the desire to diplomatically engage, while promoting “dialogue and debate” in scholastic institutions over the newly enacted Hong Kong “National Security Law”—a move that reportedly displeased proponents of the Beijing law within the Education Bureau of Hong Kong.

“To discuss the topic (of the National Security Law) does not mean we support the notion of Hong Kong independence. But students can understand what the idea is, what the pros and cons are, and discussions can happen only after they have an understanding,” Chow stated.

“When they have more understanding, they would probably know that under the broader reality, there is no way that the notion of [Hong Kong independence] can move forward. And we shall stop there … [It is important] we are not promoting the idea.”

Epoch Times Photo
People hold candles as they walk near Victoria Park after police closed the venue where Hong Kong people traditionally gather annually to mourn the victims of China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, in the Causeway Bay district in Hong Kong on June 4, 2021. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Similarly, Chow stated in his May 18 press conference that although he intended to pray for victims of the Chinese Tiananmen Square Massacre on June 4, he would ensure that all Hong Kong city laws would be obeyed.

Reports from the event—which Hong Kong Police cancelled, reportedly due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and citing the National Security Law—say that hundreds attended scheduled Masses throughout the city—to include a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Joseph Zen.

“We refuse to be pessimistic,” Cardinal Zen said during his homily. “We will not be disappointed. In the remembrance of the dead – those killed 32 years ago, our prayer is also for the Lord to lead the rulers to walk on the path of justice and peace.”

When asked if he had a message for Bishop elect Chow, Cardinal Joseph Zen replied, “I promise to pray for your service to the Church of Hong Kong.”

Chow has not responded to messages asking for comment.

Bree Dail
Bree Dail