ROME — Pope Francis has appointed Jesuit Father Stephen Chow Sau-yan to be the new Bishop of the Diocese of Hong Kong as the latest elevation of members of his order to positions of influence.
Father Chow, who currently serves as the Provincial of the Chinese Province of the Society of Jesus, will replace Cardinal John Tong Hon, who has served as the Apostolic Administrator of Hong Kong since January 2019.
In naming Chow to occupy this important and controversial post, Pope Francis has continued his penchant for appointing members of his own order to key ecclesiastical posts.
The first Jesuit Pope in history, Francis named Jesuit Archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer in 2017 to head the Vatican’s powerful doctrinal office (CDF), making him the first member of the Jesuit order to occupy that position as well.
“This gives the pope the chance to finally place his own man in a very important spot,” said Jesuit Father James Martin, editor-at-large of America magazine, at the time.
While some are delighting in the appointment, “some will feel uneasy about having two members of the Society of Jesus holding the two most senior positions in the Church,” wrote veteran Vatican journalist Edward Pentin. No religious order in history has held these two posts simultaneously.
During his almost eight-year pontificate, Pope Francis has regularly elevated his confreres to positions of honor and influence.
In another first, in June 2017 the pope gave Ireland its debut Jesuit bishop, naming Father Alan McGuckian S.J. to the diocese of Raphoe. At the time, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, said that Father McGuckian would bring “rich experiences and gifts” to his new ministry as bishop.
In April of the same year, Francis appointed two more Jesuits — Father James Martin and Father Jacquineau Azétsop of the Gregorian University — as consultants for the Vatican’s Secretariat for communications.
In December 2016, the pope named Canadian Jesuit Father Michael Czerny as his Immigration Czar within the Vatican office for the Promotion of Integral Human Development.
In a very rare move, the pope announced in September 2019 that he intended to make Father Czerny a cardinal — despite the fact that he was not even a bishop — and the following month Francis first ordained him bishop and then made him cardinal the next day.
In that same consistory, the pope raised two other Jesuits to the rank of cardinal, the archbishop of Luxembourg Jean-Claude Höllerich, an outspoken advocate of for freer immigration into Europe, and the Lithuanian archbishop Sigitas Tamkevičius.
In November, 2019, Francis tapped fellow Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves to head up the Vatican’s influential secretariat for the economy, a post previously held by Australian Cardinal George Pell.
Along with his appointments of acting Jesuits, Pope Francis has also continued enrolling members of his order in the ranks of the saints. Within a year of ascending to the papacy, Francis canonized Father Peter Faber S.J., the only one of the first three members of the order not yet deemed a saint (the other two were Saints Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier). In April 2016, the Pope approved the beatification of Irish Jesuit priest Fr John Sullivan, who entered the Jesuit Order in 1900 and died in 1933.
Vatican-watchers have anxiously awaited the pope’s choice for the new bishop of Hong Kong, a post previously held by Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has been a vocal critic of Francis’s mode of dealing with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Despite his frequent denunciation of injustices around the world, Francis has been strangely silent regarding the CCP’s oppression of religious minorities, its “genocide” of Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province, and its heavy-handed suppression of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
Supporters of the Hong Kong protesters such as Benedict Rogers, co-founder of the monitoring group Hong Kong Watch, had voiced their hopes that Francis would appoint Hong Kong auxiliary Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing as bishop of the diocese.
Knowing that such a move would have upset CCP leadership in Beijing, however, Francis was unlikely to make such a move, observers noted.