With all the attention Cardinal Joseph Zen has been getting with regard to his protests against the China/Vatican deal, most American Catholics probably aren’t aware that Hong Kong has two retired cardinals. Taking a much different approach than his predecessor, Cardinal John Tong, has offered his support for the agreement, and has spoken of the hope that a unified Catholic Church in China represents. While the bishop of Hong Kong does not have jurisdiction over the Church in mainland China, bishops of Hong Kong generally have much to say about the situation of the Church in mainland China, and their voice deserves special attention given their proximity to the situation.

Cardinal Tong is currently the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Hong Kong, as his successor, Bishop Michael Yeung died of liver failure on January 3 of this year. (Yeung also supported a Vatican/China accord.)

Now Cardinal Tong has issued a pastoral letter, in which he speaks out strongly in support of Pope Francis and the role of the papacy, as well as the measures being taken in the Hong Kong Church to address the problem of sexual abuse.

The first part of the letter specifically addresses the resistance against Pope Francis, and how this is contrary to what the Church teaches about the papacy. Excerpts:

 The pilgrim Church on earth is called to holiness, to be a Communion of Saints, but through human frailty she has regrettably from time to time become a Community of Sinners. Yet, in spite of her faults and weaknesses, the Church must not give up the mission entrusted to her; rather, she must repent and, relying on the unfailing help of God’s grace, continue her journey towards her heavenly goal.

It is no exaggeration to say that Pope Francis has gained recognition, not only as a humble and open-minded Church leader who zealously proclaims the message of God’s Mercy and Love, but also as a public person who has significantly contributed to world peace and interreligious dialogue. We note, however, that there are Church members who do harbour some sort of perplexity, distrust or even hostility towards Pope Francis, regarding him as not knowing what he is saying or doing, or as deviating from the teaching of the Church.

Let us first of all bear in mind that the Church must keep abreast of the times. While preserving the integrity of the “deposit of faith” and remaining faithful to the teaching of the Apostles and to Tradition, the Church is bound in every age to preach the perennial Gospel message and present the Catholic faith anew, in a manner intelligible and appealing to mankind. Secondly, the Church must continue to reform and purify herself, so that she may shine forth as the Bride of Christ. These goals are precisely what Pope Francis has been aiming at. It is our duty to give him our full support.

There are some Church members who seem to be willing to stand by the Pope only when he shares their ideas, but they speak against the Pope when he holds a different view. Certainly, the Pope speaks infallibly only under very special conditions with regard to Catholic faith and morals, still, we are bound to show Christian obedience to him when he, as Supreme Pastor of the Universal Church, teaches or guides the People of God under other circumstances. We, as Catholics, are also obliged to respect the officials of the Roman Curia who are chosen by the Pope himself to be his close collaborators in his mission as Supreme Pastor.

The second part of the letter was on the sexual abuse of minors:

In order to take more drastic measures to resolve the problem of the sexual abuse of minors, Pope Francis convened a meeting in Rome from February 21–24, attended by representatives of Bishops’ conferences and religious institutes from around the world. The victims were heard, and the Holy See and Church officials pledged to spare no effort to prevent such scandals from ever happening again.

The fact that the crime of sexual abuse of minors is found, tragically, in all human communities, does not minimise the scandalous nature and the responsibility of the Catholic clergy and Church leaders. Rightly, people have high expectations of Catholic pastors, who are supposed to set an example of impeccable moral conduct, especially in view of their thorough formation and the sacred mission they are to carry out. Regrettably, too often, it has been brought to light that clerics have abused their position or power, and have thereby betrayed the trust that minors and their families have placed in them.

As far as Church leaders and those involved in pastoral services or Church activities are concerned, they should never be alone with a single child in an isolated and closed place for whatever reason. Priests should hear the confessions of children in locations where trusted adults are also present, without prejudice to confidentiality. All Church activities involving minors should be made public and should include more than one trusted adult.

Persons who believe themselves to be victims of sexual abuse, or have knowledge of cases of alleged abuse, have the right to report them to the civil authorities and to the ecclesiastical authorities.

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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.

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