Hong Kong Bishop Misses Mark in Apology to Lesbian and Gay People

Hong Kong’s new bishop has apologized for gay-negative remarks he made two years ago, but his apology missed the mark and revealed a need for further education.

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Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung

Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung claimed he was misquoted when he made remarks about homosexuality two years ago. The South China Morning Post reported that the bishop explained his comparison of sexual orientation to drug addiction was not proper:

“Maybe that was really a bad example. I said maybe your son is a drug addict, do you love him still? Yes, you still love him … The only thing I haven’t really said very clearly [was that] homosexuality was not like that,’ Yeung said.

“He added that even if a Catholic said he or she was homosexual, there was little he could do but to teach that person what the Bible said.

“The bishop said he would be more careful with his words in future to avoid confusion.”

The initial remarks were made when he was auxiliary bishop in November 2015. He was defending a pastoral letter released by then-Cardinal John Tong which instructed Hong Kong voters to consider candidates’ stances on marriage and family, specifically their views on a non-discrimination ordinance. Marriage equality, Tong said, would “turn [society] upside-down.”

Yeung Ming-cheung defended the letter by saying “the church doesn’t have any enemy” and offered the following comparison to being gay: “it was wrong to [abuse] drugs and we would say so, but we still love drug addicts.” Local politicians pushed back against both Tong and Yeung Ming-cheung’s statements.

Hong Kong’s church leaders have struggled to be welcoming to lesbian and gay people. Cardinal Tong’s 2012 Christmas message stridently attacked same-gender couples, but then all mentions of such couples were removed in the 2013 message. Some commentators attributed the change to the influence of Pope Francis.

In this latest statement, Yeung Ming-cheung recognized that his earlier comparison of gay people to people suffering from addiction was inappropriate. Taken at his word now, it seems the bishop intended to offer a more positive statement about showing love towards gay family members. He committed himself to being more responsible about language in the future.

Still, Yeung Ming-cheung seems incapable of providing an effective pastoral response to the LGBT community. The bishop and his pastoral ministers could be doing a lot more for lesbian and gay people than quoting the Bible to them.

First of all, a proper scriptural interpretation in accordance with Dei Verbum’s historical-critical principles helps Catholics understand the Bible never directly addresses homosexual orientation. Second, good pastoral care can be offered even if the bishop is unwilling to affirm same-gender sexual acts. Finally, the bishop could educate Catholics in his diocese to understand that “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” are due to lesbian and gay people.

Bishop Yeung Ming-cheung needs to learn more about sexual orientation and how lesbian and gay people experience this dimension of themselves.  His remarks now and in 2015 reveal a lack of knowledge, and until he fills that gap, he will continue to be unable to offer true words of healing and support.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 7, 2017