"For some reason, his name was held up because of some vague accusations. They could never prove if they are true, or if this is just the way diocesan priests eat up other diocesan priests here."
Concerns both on the island and in Rome about how Choy's appointment could be received relate to his perceived closeness to the government, and his distance from the pro-democracy movement, which has sizeable lay Catholic involvement.
Among Hong Kong Catholics, there have also been rumors about Choy's private suitability for leadership.
"There's a concern about a lack of gravitas," a priest close to the Hong Kong chancery told CNA, saying that many would worry Choy would be unable to stand up for the Church locally.
Another senior local cleric offered a more unsparing assessment of Choy's reputation in Hong Kong, describing him as a "pro-Beijing hawk," and a "sworn enemy of [Cardinal] Zen."
"His elevation is just further proof of how the Holy See is selling the faithful down the Yangtze, or in this case Pearl River," the senior cleric told CNA.
Both predicted that the appointment would trigger an outspoken denunciation from Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, Tong's predecessor as Bishop of Hong Kong, and an outspoken critic of the 2018 Vatican-China deal.
"When the announcement is finally made, [Cardinal Zen] will go crazy," one told CNA. "One of the things he's been fighting against is an appointment that could be seen as an appeasement [of the government], and that's how this will be translated."
Sharp divisions among the local clergy and faithful are heavily influenced by the political situation, especially following the attempted crackdown by the mainland government, and after the 2018 Vatican-China deal, which reportedly gave Communist authorities the right to propose and approve new episcopal appointments.
The other front-running candidate for the vacant Diocese of Hong Kong had been the current auxiliary bishop of the diocese, Bishop Joseph Ha Chi-shing, who is publicly associated with the protestors on the island, and has appeared at protests and demonstrations.
CNA was told by senior clerics in the diocese that before his death, Yeung had intended to ask that Choy be appointed as a second auxiliary bishop, to balance Ha's more antagonistic posture to the mainland government.
(Story continues below)
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"Bishop Yeung wanted to have two auxiliaries," one Hong Kong chancery official explained to CNA. "They would have been like a yin-yang: one very tall and forceful [Ha], the other rather meek and withdrawn [Choy], but they were both very close friends of the bishop [Yeung]."
The same source explained that similar concerns, and factionalism among diocesan clergy, led Yeung to appoint four vicars general to serve at the same time – an unusual move.
"Yeung had these four vicars general instead of one, they each brought something different to the table and it was to appease all the different factions among the clergy. The clergy here are very divided on many different things: age, friendships from seminary, and on politics," the priest said.
There are more than 300 priests in Hong Kong, most of them members of religious orders. They serve a diocese of more than 600,000 Catholics.
A senior source close to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome told CNA that Bishop Ha was the Vatican's first choice to succeed Yeung, and that Pope Francis had formally approved his appointment, only to have to reverse the decision before it was announced.
The Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples is responsible for recommending episcopal appointments in China, together with the Secretariat of State.