Cardinal John Tong Hon
Cardinal John Tong Hon at the St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

The Catholic Church in Hong Kong has stirred up controversy in the upcoming district council elections after comparing homosexuals to drug addicts. In a pastoral letter dated 5 November, the leader of the city's Catholics, Cardinal John Tong Hon urged all followers to consider their local candidates views on LGBT rights in the elections.

In the letter he said: "In recent years, extreme liberalism, individualism, sexual liberation and gay rights movement [activists] ... advocated that Hong Kong should introduce sexual orientatino discrimination ordinance and recognise same-sex marriage. This has shaken our society to its core." Referring to media reports that a student group had run a "sex workshop" recently, Tong warned that "twisted trends are no longer spreading in an obscure manner, but they have publicly and openly intruded into our daily lives and directly impacted our next generation."

This is the second time in two months that Tong has used his occasional pastoral letters to criticise same-sex marriage. The letter was issued two days before the Pride Parade in Hong Kong and two weeks before the 22 November district council polls.

His letter came under severe criticism, prompting auxiliary bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung to come out in defence of the Cardinal. Yeung, who is the second highest ranked Catholic in Hong Kong entered the fray, saying: "The church doesn't have any enemy and it wouldn't criticise anyone. It was only talking about a wrong-doing. For example, it was wrong to [abuse] drugs and we would say so, but we still love drug addicts."

The Reverend Grace Bok Sha-Iun from the One Body in Christ Church in Jordan accused Tong of having an agenda for "mobilising Catholics not to vote for candidates" who are gay or supporters of sexual minorities. "The statement is full of discrimination, and it's contradictory to our core values of our Christian faith ... which should welcome everyone," she said.

Caroline Wilson, the UK's consul general to Hong Kong who took part in the parade, told the Sunday Morning Post: "There's discrimination in Hong Kong. And it's wrong." Hong Kong has 379,000 Catholics.