Vatican Opposition to Same-Sex Unions Sparks Hong Kong Protest

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - The Roman Catholic Church in Hong Kong has denounced the actions of homosexual activists who stormed a Mass in the territory's largest Catholic church, to protest a recent Vatican document rejecting same-sex unions.

A small group of protestors entered the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, where they shouted at congregants. Two lesbians reportedly kissed demonstratively inside the building during the episode, which lasted about 10 minutes.

The activists demanded a public apology from the Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, whom they accused of opposing same-sex unions in articles published by the diocese last week.

Protestor organizer Tommy Chen Noel was quoted as saying the disruption of the Mass had been a brief one, "but the Catholic officials are supporting a stance that trespasses our rights every moment, every day."

The Hong Kong government said in a statement that police had been in touch with cathedral officials and were investigating whether the protestors had breached any law.

The police would also discuss appropriate arrangements to prevent recurrences, it said, adding an appeal to members of the public not to deliberately violate "social order and peace."

Although the protest was aimed at Zen, the activists' ultimate target was a document related by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on July 31, which takes a clear stand against the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex unions.

It says Catholic politicians around the world should publicly oppose, and vote against, any legislation that proposes to legalize homosexual unions.

The chancellor of the Hong Kong Catholic diocese, Fr. Lawrence Lee, said Tuesday that members of the congregation had been very upset by the episode.

"We found it inappropriate for those homosexual groups to break into the church and interrupt our liturgy," he said by phone from the territory. "We respect their right to express their views but it must be done in the proper way."

Lee said this was the first time he was aware that homosexual activists had targeted a Catholic church in Hong Kong in such a high profile way.

"We are in contact with the local police to see what further we can do."

The church was also considering holding meetings at which the issues arising out of the Vatican document could be discussed, "in order to look deeper, from the point of view of Catholic doctrine and morality, into this recent trend in some other countries."

He could not say yet whether homosexual groups would be invited to such meetings.

Zen is known for his outspokenness when it comes to religious persecution in mainland China and moves towards greater democracy in Hong Kong. He has been criticized by official Chinese media in recent weeks for his political activism.

As to whether he has been similarly forthright on questions of morality, Lee said the bishop did support the Vatican's stance, although he had not himself specifically come out recently against homosexual unions.

Diocese publications last week had reported on aspects of the Vatican's document, with "some short comments from our church people."

"Of course we upheld and supported the position of the Holy See," Lee stressed.

The protestors had clearly been "unhappy to see our diocese upholding the view - they were annoyed and said their rights have not been respected."

Around 230,000 of Hong Kong's seven million people are Catholics.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1991, six years before the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule.

Activist groups for homosexuals and lesbians, known locally as Tzonghi, have become more politically active since the handover.

In 1997, attempts to pass "anti-discrimination" legislation that would have covered housing, employment and other sectors were narrowly defeated in the Legislative Council.

In 2001, activists stormed a World Red Cross Day ceremony to protest against the Red Cross' refusal to accept blood donations from homosexuals.

Chen, the organizer of the anti-Catholic protest and a representative of an activist group called Rainbow Action, was in the headlines last year when he "married" a lesbian at a Hong Kong registry office.

He wore a wedding dress and the woman wore men's clothing during the ceremony, after which they announced that they had no intention living as man and wife, but were drawing attention to the absence of housing and other benefits for same-sex partners.

Attempts to reach Chen by phone were unsuccessful Tuesday, and he did not respond to queries emailed to Rainbow Action.

See earlier story:
Efforts to 'Transform' Catholic Church Will Continue, Activists Vow (Aug. 1, 2003)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow