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.

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

Hong Kong’s Cardinal Attacks Non-Discrimination Bill; Suggests Equality “Worse Than Climate Change”

Cardinal John Tong

Hong Kong’s Cardinal John Tong released a pastoral letter decrying a proposed sexual orientation non-discrimination ordinance in which he instructed Catholics to beware of candidates who support equality. An earlier letter said marriage equality was worse than climate change.

Writing to pastoral ministers and church leaders, Tong struck out against the proposed Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance (SODO) and marriage equality. He wrote, in part:

“. . .[T]he ‘Sex Liberation Movement’ and the ‘Gay Movement’, under the guise of equality and the fight against discrimination, have all along been advocating the enactment of a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ordinance and the recognition of same-sex marriages.  Thereby, the core values and key concepts of marriage and of the family are continually being challenged and misinterpreted, so that the very foundation of society is being undermined.”

The cardinal also stated that “the stance of each candidate and that of the political party he/she might belong to with regard to the core values of marriage and the family,” specifically their view on SODO, should be considered. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2015 decision to legalize marriage equality, as well as noting a local university’s sex education workshop, Tong warned that LGBT rights “would force our society into undergoing a change that would turn it upside-down.”

Church officials were instructed to “urgently” disseminate this message, including sharing on Facebook and having it read aloud at Sunday Masses.

This is not Cardinal Tong’s first time attacking LGBT rights. He released another letter in late September against equal marriage rights. Writing extensively against the Obergefell decision and tying his remarks to Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical Laudato Si, the cardinal put forward the patently ridiculous line:

“The resulting ‘climate change’ in moral attitudes and conduct towards sex and marriage, if not properly addressed, can be as bad as and even worse than climate change in the physical environment.”

Tong was also extremely strident against same-gender couples in his 2012 Christmas message, though this softened in 2013, likely due to Pope Francis’ influence.

Tong’s rhetoric is harsh and, at times, even bizarre, which led gay lawmaker Ray Chan Chi-chuen to call this most recent letter a “big international joke” and suggested Pope Francis would never write such judgmental words, reported Hong Kong Free Press.

Chan joined Shum Tsz-kit of Rainbow Action, an LGBT rights group, in questioning why the cardinal was prioritizing his anti-LGBT crusade instead of elevating real issues, like the destruction of Christian churches in China, and real values for Hong Kong, like democracy and fairness.

The letter comes the same week as Hong King’s Pride celebrations today, and only days after Houston, Texas, voters rejected a similar non-discrimination ordinance in last Tuesday’s elections. Catholics with DignityUSA’s Trans Support Caucus criticized Texas voters’ failure to approve the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) which would have expanded LGBT protections. Lui Francesco Matsuo, a transgender man with the Caucus, said in a statement:

” ‘It is sad and scary to live in a society where people vote against what they are ignorant about based on unfounded discriminatory feelings, rather than educating themselves and deciding logically with facts.”

I think Matsuo is on point in suggesting that, rather than giving in to ignorance and prejudice, people need to educate themselves first. Cardinal Tong’s letters are completely devoid of any compassion for LGBT people as people, marginalizing their experiences and desires for equality.

There is no mercy or respect in his words, the very traits Pope Francis repeatedly calls for from church leaders. More than that, Tong;s words perpetuate discrimination and such misguided attitudes often breed violence. The cardinal should retract both letters and choose instead to encounter LGBT people, especially those within the local church he oversees, so he can come to know and to love them. Until then, his letters fall on deaf ears.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry