Stephen Chow named as new bishop of Hong Kong

Pope Francis on Monday named Stephen Chow as the new bishop of Hong Kong, a long-delayed appointment that comes amid growing Sino-Vatican frictions and escalating Western concern over alleged human rights violations in the global financial hub.

In a statement, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong said Chow, who’s currently a member of the Society of Jesus and the provincial superior of the Jesuit Chinese Province, will replace Cardinal John Tong, who has held the post in a caretaker capacity following the death of the previous bishop, Michael Yeung, in January 2019.

The 62-year-old, who’s also the supervisor of Wah Yan College, will take office at the end of the year and Tong will, in the meantime, remain as head of the Catholic Church.

“In view of the arrangements of the Society of Jesus for the appointment of a new Provincial Superior for the Chinese Province, the episcopal consecration of Rev Stephen Chow will be postponed to 4 December 2021 (Saturday), with details to be announced later,” the statement wrote.

Chow will meet journalists at a press conference on Tuesday.

The incoming bishop has had a history of speaking out on social issues.

During the anti-government protests in 2019, he wrote on social media that he was “touched” to see the younger generation in Hong Kong express their views to the government.

After the national security law came into force last year, he also wrote a letter to students at Wah Yan College, reminding them that the school is not a political organisation and that students should beware of the legal consequences they might have to bear for the action.

Chow also said in an interview last year that while advocating Hong Kong independence is illegal, it’s also important to try to understand why some people actually want Hong Kong to be independent.

Senior clerics familiar with the situation said Chow must ease tensions among a flock divided between those wanting the diocese to do more to defend Hong Kong’s waning freedoms and others, including some powerful establishment figures, who want a less confrontational approach.

Many of Hong Kong’s senior government and business figures are Catholics, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as opposition activists, such as Apply Daily founder Jimmy Lai, who was recently detained under a sweeping new national security law.

The appointment of Chow follows two failed attempts to fill the post.

Previous potential candidates were considered either too close to Beijing for the comfort of many local Catholics, or potentially unacceptable to mainland officials due to their prominence during the months of sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests that rocked the city through 2019. (Additional reporting by Reuters)