Hong Kong Catholic Church could bridge China with Vatican, says bishop

The Hong Kong Catholic Church could facilitate dialogue and act as a "bridge" between China and the Vatican, according to the church's new leader Bishop Michael Yeung on Aug. 2.

(REUTERS / Jason Lee)A Catholic church in traditional Chinese architecture style in Xiliulin village near the city of Taiyuan, Shanxi province, December 23, 2012.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal John Tong Hon's resignation as the leader of the Hong Kong Catholic Church. The Vatican also announced that he will be succeeded by Bishop Yeung, who has been the head of the Diocese of Hong Kong since 2009, Catholic News Service detailed.

Although China is home to around 12 million Catholics, its diplomatic ties with the Vatican have been frigid since 1951. Cardinal Tong had sought to improve the relations between the two parties, but some Catholics fear that a deal with the Chinese government may have untoward consequences for the church, the AFP reported.

When asked if he would follow Tong's approach to China, Bishop Yeung highlighted the importance of building bridges rather than fences. The 71-year-old church leader said they are willing to help facilitate communication between China and the Vatican.

"We are willing to be a bridge, and I always think that building bridges is much more important than building fences," Bishop Yeung told reporters on Tuesday. "If there is any way we can help to maintain a dialogue, we will be willing to do so."

Amidst Beijing's cold relations with the Vatican, there are "underground" churches that are loyal to the pope. China's state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association appoints bishops for the country, but the Vatican insists that it should be the one to choose bishops.

In June, the Vatican voiced out concern for one of its bishops in China. The bishop claimed that he was removed from his diocese in Wenzhou and detained in an unknown place.

Although Yeung is willing to help bridge the ties between China and the Vatican, he also supports democratic reform of Hong Kong. Tong and his predecessor Cardinal Joseph Zen also held a similar belief.