Cardinal Zen: Pope Francis Is ‘Killing’ China’s Underground Church

Joseph Zen

ROME — The former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, said Pope Francis’ new policies in dealing with the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) are “killing” the underground Church in that country.

“Unfortunately, my experience of my contact with the Vatican is simply disastrous,” the cardinal said in an interview Tuesday, adding that he is particularly distressed by the Vatican’s secret deal with Beijing over the naming of Catholic bishops and a subsequent document allowing Catholic clergy to register with the state-run church.

“There are three things,” Zen said. “A secret agreement, being so secret you can’t say anything. We don’t know what is in it. Then the legitimization of the seven excommunicated bishops. That’s incredible, simply incredible.”

“But even more incredible is the last act: the killing of the underground,” he said.

Asked whether he has had the chance to look over the Sino-Vatican deal, the cardinal replied: “No! I ask you, if that’s fair.”

“I am one of the two living Chinese Cardinals and I cannot have a view of that agreement, and I’ve been three times to Rome,” he said.

“Now they finished their job,” the cardinal said. “On the 28th of June, a document came out from the Holy See—the Holy See. Never had a document come out from the Holy See, always from a particular department, with the two signatures. This had no department specified and no signature—from the Holy See. Incredible. Incredible. Somebody doesn’t dare to take responsibility.”

Cardinal Zen was referring to a document bearing the title “Pastoral guidelines of the Holy See concerning the civil registration of clergy in China” regarding Catholic priests enlisting in the state-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA), which does not recognize the authority of Rome.

The document — bearing the signature of  “The Holy See” — offers Chinese clergy the opportunity to register with the CPA in good conscience as long as they specify that they are acting without failing in their duty “to remain faithful to the principles of Catholic doctrine.”

While hastening to insist it “understands and respects the choice of those who, in conscience, decide that they are unable to register under the current conditions,” the Vatican has essentially thrown them under the bus, since it has explicitly authorized membership in the CPA.

This last act is “simply incredible,” Cardinal Zen said. “The document says, ‘To minister openly, you need to register with the government.’ And then you have to sign. To sign something in which it says that you have to support the independent church.”

“The document contains something against our orthodoxy and they are encouraged to sign,” he said. “When you sign, you accept to be a member of that church under the leadership of the communist party. So terrible, terrible.”

The next time I see the pope, “I’m going to tell him ‘you are encouraging a schism. You are legitimizing the schismatic church in China,’” Zen said. “Incredible.”

The cardinal says that he went to Rome in June this year hoping to meet with the pope about this text.

“I sent a letter to the papal residence, saying, ‘Holy Father, I am here in Rome. I would like to know who drafted that document. The so-called pastoral orientation. And I want to discuss with him on that document in your presence. I am here in Rome for four days, you can call me anytime, day or night,’” Zen said.

After two attempts, the cardinal received the following message: “The Holy Father said, whatever you have to say, say to the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin.”

“I was furious,” Zen said, adding that he would “never waste time with that fellow,” referring to Cardinal Parolin.

“I have a clear impression that Parolin is manipulating the Holy Father,” he said.


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