Hong Kong Cardinal Jospeh Zen Ze-kiun has cautioned Pope Francis and other top Vatican officials about making a deal with the Chinese Communist Party.
Cardinal Zen has long been an outspoken critic of China’s ruling communists and has been critical of the Vatican’s efforts to form some kind of deal with Beijing over how Catholic bishops are appointed on the mainland.
In an interview with the Chinese-language World Journal in New York, 85-year-old cardinal Zen said that the Argentinean pope is sympathetic to communists.
Under the pope’s instruction, the Vatican has been holding secret negotiations with Chinese officials on the bishop appointments in China’s Catholic Church, which is currently split in two.
— Hong Kong Free Press HKFP (@hkfp) October 6, 2017
In China, there is the so-called open church, which is state controlled through the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, and there is the underground church loyal to the Vatican which suffers various levels of persecution and intimidation.
According to Catholic news agency ucanews.com, there are 30 underground bishops in China. There are eight bishops in the mainland who were ordained without Vatican approval, but are sanctioned by the state.
Beijing is reportedly demanding that their illegitimate bishops be recognized by the pope. It is understood that two of these state-sanctioned bishops have wives and children, which goes against church doctrine.
“The Chinese government has not made any concessions in the negotiations,” said Cardinal Zen. “There are some things that we cannot make compromises,” he said.
Cardinal Zen said high-level Vatican officials don’t want to hear opposing voices on the issue of its dealings with Beijing. He cited the recent shifting of Hong Kong-born Archbishop Savio Hon from an important role at the Vatican to a position in Greece.
According to ucanews.com, Archbishop Hon was the only high-ranking Chinese official in the Roman Curia, the administrative unit of the Holy See. He is believed to hold conservative views regarding the church’s dealing with the communist government.
“Now, Savio Hon has been pushed away,” Cardinal Zen told World Journal.
This week's cover: An exclusive interview with Cardinal Zen on his battle for China's Catholics pic.twitter.com/KQ2ha2Fqgp
— Catholic Herald (@CatholicHerald) May 17, 2017
The cardinal has many times voiced his concerns over Pope Francis’s approach to the Chinese government and on how he understands its ruling communists.
“Maybe the pope is a little naive; he doesn’t have the background to know the communists in China,” Cardinal Zen said in November of last year, reported The Guardian. “The pope used to know the persecuted communists [in Latin America], but he may not know the communist persecutors who have killed hundreds of thousands.”
Cardinal Zen is not the only Catholic clergyman publicly concerned about the pope’s efforts to improve relations with Beijing. Another voice is that of Father Alexander Lucie-Smith, a parish priest in England and a contributing editor at the Catholic Herald.
“The [Catholic] Church is diametrically opposed to policies like forced abortion, the contraception policy, the one-child policy, and [China’s] lavish use of the death penalty,” Father Lucie-Smith told Quartz.
“Those are pretty damn major things. We believe in freedom, democracy, and human rights. It’s wishful thinking that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] believes in that as well,” he said.
— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) April 4, 2016
Catholicism in modern China
Not long after taking control of China in 1949, the communists cut diplomatic ties with the Vatican and expelled foreign missionaries.
In 1957, the communists set up the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association in a bid to control what remained of the church.
When the communists sought to eradicate religion from society during the Cultural Revolution, churches were shut and Catholics were targeted as “enemies of the people.”
Untold numbers of Catholics were killed.
After Chairman Mao Zedong died in 1976, restrictions upon religions relatively eased, but communist authorities continued to harass and discriminate against Catholics and other Christian groups.
In 2014, the Chinese government said that there were 5.7 million Catholics who were part of congregations registered with the state, said a Freedom House report released this year. The report’s author Sarah Cook, wrote that there are approximately 12 million Chinese Catholics who worship in unofficial churches.
Watch this episode of China Uncensored on the controversy that the Catholic Church found itself in when Chinese health officials attended a conference on organ transplantation held at the Vatican earlier this year: