The Vatican has appointed Father Stephen Chow as the new bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, the Holy See announced on Monday, after the position was left vacant for more than two years.
The city’s Catholics had been without a permanent leader for more than two years since the sudden death of Bishop Michael Yeung in January 2019. The Vatican then chose Bishop Emeritus John Tong, 82, to serve as the apostolic administrator.
“Cardinal John Tong, currently Apostolic Administrator, will continue to be the head of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong until Rev. Stephen Chow has received episcopal consecration and has taken canonical possession of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong,” the church said in a memo on Monday.
Chow’s episcopal consecration will be postponed to Dec. 4 this year, with details to be announced later, the memo added.
The promotion of the 62-year-old priest came as a surprise as he had not been mentioned previously as a possible candidate; the Hong Kong Diocese was reportedly choosing between Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha and Father Peter Choy.
Ha, a 62-year-old pro-democracy advocate, will remain the auxiliary bishop of the diocese despite his popularity within the local Catholic community.
Choy, 62, a pro-Beijing priest, had reportedly been promoted to the post, but the diocese faced strong opposition regarding his promotion.
Observers have described Chow’s promotion as a “prudent choice,” saying he will be a buffer amid the city’s current political situation and the polarization within the diocese.
Chow “is relatively diplomatic and knows how to avoid going head-to-head with those in power,” a clergyperson told Apple Daily. There would be a “honeymoon period” with mainland China after his assumption of the post, the person added.
A theologian and educator who graduated from Harvard University in the United States, Chow has led the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus in Hong Kong since 2018 and been a supervisor of two of the city’s most prestigious boys’ schools.
Considered a moderate priest, Chow wrote an article on Facebook during the 2019 anti-government protests, saying he was moved by the appeals of Hong Kong’s young people. But the use of violence would only incur more violence and deepen hatred, he added.
He also stated that discussions of Hong Kong independence and other sensitive topics on campus were not taboo as long as such discussions did not incite sedition or separatism.
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