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Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong KongROME REPORTS in English/YouTube

HONG KONG (LifeSiteNews) – Bishop Stephen Chow of Hong Kong, China, last week shared his hope that the Church will “one day” ordain women.

At this year’s Hong Kong diocesan Chrism Mass on April 13, during which priests renew the promises made at their ordination, Bishop Chow said upon switching from Chinese to English, “Now I turn to English, just to address our ordained brothers, and I hope one day maybe ordained sister[s] too.”

The Pillar noted that the Hong Kong diocese “has not yet clarified whether Chow had in mind the notion of ordaining women as priests or as deacons.” According to current rubrics, both priests and deacons are present at Chrism Masses, but only priests are explicitly requested during the Mass to renew their “dedication to Christ as priests of His new covenant.” 

The freshman bishop did not further address the issue of women’s ordination during his homily, but he made a few ambiguous references to the desirability of adaptation to change, telling his clergy, “We are living in a very ever-changing context,” so “discernment has to be continual, ongoing, where the Spirit wants us to move as a body….”

Chow, who was appointed bishop of Hong Kong by Pope Francis on May 17, 2021, called the assembled priests and deacons to “synodality,” and to be “shepherds…not stuck in a specific time or space, and not being shepherds without the smell of the sheep,” echoing the words of Pope Francis.

“We’re not stuck in some historical moment and never move on. That’s not good,” he added.

Pope John Paul II reaffirmed in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” citing Christ’s example of choosing Apostles “only from among men.”

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed under then-prefect Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that the Church’s teaching against female priestly ordination is “infallible.”

In the face of calls for the ordination of women to the diaconate during the 2019 Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Cardinal Gerhard Müller declared that this teaching on the impossibility of women receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders in each of the three degrees, including the diaconate, is a “dogma” of the Faith of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart in Tasmania has recently condemned the working document for Australia’s “Plenary Council,” a meeting of the entire Church in Australia, in part because it calls for the female diaconate.

He wrote in an April 11 blogpost published on the archdiocesan website, “Too much of the document focuses on women’s involvement in leadership within the Church and promotes claims for women to be ordained to the diaconate, while it lacks a promotion of both authentic religious life for women and more generally complementary nature of the feminine genius.”

“It actually asks bishops to ‘continue to review the universal teaching of the Church which precludes women from the papacy, the episcopacy and priesthood’. This is directly against Catholic teaching,” continued Porteous.

Chow, who formerly served as the Jesuit provincial superior in China, told the Sunday Examiner that while he believed that “the bishop of the diocese should better come from among the diocesan priests,” he took a letter from Pope Francis in which the pontiff “agree[d]” he should be a bishop, as a “sign” that he should accept the position.

During his consecration ceremony on December 4, Chow expressed his “desire to be a bridge between the government and the church in Hong Kong and between the Catholic Church, fellow Christian denominations and other religions.” 

Leading China expert Steve Mosher, who on Tuesday pointed to evidence that life in China has worsened since the secret Vatican-China agreement made in September 2018, noted that while “its terms have never been revealed, it is widely thought to have laid out a process by which bishops could be selected by Beijing and confirmed by the Holy See.”

The agreement was renewed in 2020, and the Vatican diplomat who brokered the deal, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, hopes it can be renewed again this September.

Mosher pointed out that from 2017, the Vatican made major compromises in order to come to a deal with China and “fill the 40 or so empty sees in China.”

“First, Pope Francis lifted the excommunication of the seven illicit ‘bishops’ named by the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, which is to say, by the Chinese Communist Party. Second, he seems to have agreed that elderly bishops of the Underground Church must be forcibly retired and replaced with Patriotic bishops of Beijing’s choosing, while younger Underground bishops must be reassigned to subordinate roles in the Patriotic church,” recalled Mosher.

It was “the prospect of this ‘sell-out’ of the Underground Church” that drove Hong Kong’s Cardinal Joseph Zen to Rome, to “plead the cause of his Chinese co-believers to the Holy Father himself.”

Mosher noted that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary Xi Jinping made clear in December 2021 that “all religious communities should be led by the Party, controlled by the Party, and support the Party.” Jinping emphasized that “religion and religious organizations must be actively guided to adapt to socialist society.”

During his relatively short tenure as bishop, Chow has appeared on at least several occasions to align with the thoughts of Pope Francis. He seems to share, for example, Pope Francis’ aversion to a “rigid” interpretation of the Catholic idea of dogma, or a truth revealed by God which the magisterium of the Church has declared as binding. Chow appeared to distance himself from the importance of dogma when he stressed during his first address as bishop that “a church without spirituality becomes too dogmatized and formalized.”