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HK's next Catholic head to bridge Sino-Vatican ties - report

Feb 11, 2008 12:44 PM EST

The next leader of Hong Kong's Catholic Church said he would take a more flexible approach in bridging Vatican and China ties, while hinting he would be less outspoken than the current head, a newspaper reported on Monday.

Newly appointed Associate Bishop John Tong Hon, whom Pope Benedict XVI recently named as successor to Cardinal Joseph Zen when he retires, said he would act as a "bridge" between the Holy See and Beijing, through a flexible approach upholding Vatican principles.

"The principles are there. But there is some degree of freedom on how to interpret the principles or how to materialise them. I will not say if it is a milder approach or not. It all depends on how other people view it," Bishop Tong was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post.

"But we should also hold up justice. We should endorse what is right and criticise what is wrong," Bishop Tong added.

China's 8-12 million Catholics are split between a state-sanctioned church and an underground church that rejects government ties and answers only to Rome. Beijing and the Vatican have no formal diplomatic relations, giving Hong Kong Catholic leaders a potentially important liaison role.

Hong Kong's current Catholic leader Joseph Zen, whose outspoken views on democractic and religious freedoms have antagonised Beijing, has said he wants to retire to focus on mending ties between the Holy See and Beijing.

Bishop Tong, however, reportedly hinted he would not be as outspoken as Zen on Hong Kong politics, amid what the Post called "concerns that the diocese might soften its stance on democracy while seeking to smooth Sino-Vatican relations".

"There are many talents in the church. It is not for one single bishop to speak up all the time ... my role is to play as a bridge," Bishop Tong was quoted as saying.

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