ROME — Lord Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said the Vatican “got it badly wrong about China” in its secret 2018 accord with the Communist Party on the naming of bishops.
“It is very sad, but under Xi Jinping things have gone backwards in China,” Patten told the Tablet, a UK-based Catholic journal, adding that it was “bizarre” for the Vatican to warm to the Communist Party at this time.
“How can you have a rapprochement on religious issues with China when there are a million or more Uighur Muslims locked up in Xinjiang?” queried Patten, who has been chancellor of Oxford University since 2003.
Lord Patten, who was the governor of Hong Kong from 1992 to 1997, said he understands why the Vatican has an interest in China but questions the opportuneness of its timing and method.
“Of course I am in favour of them trying to do what they can to make it easier for Catholics and Christians to worship in China,” said Patten, who is himself a Catholic.
“I just think this was an extraordinary time to be doing this with an administration in China which has gone back on human rights – which is making things tougher on human rights. That is what Xi Jinping has been doing,” he said.
Patten, who also served as Chairman of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1992, underscored the ongoing hostility of the Chinese Communists toward Christians, noting Xi Jinping’s recent choice for director of Hong Kong.
“The man who they have made head of the Hong Kong-Macau office in charge of dealing with Hong Kong cut his teeth tearing down Christian symbols in the province he was previously running,” Patten said.
He was referring to Xia Baolong, a close ally of Xi Jinping known for his antipathy toward Christians. While Xia was deputy in Zhejiang province, one of China’s more heavily Christian regions, he oversaw the removal of more than 1,200 crosses and the demolition of dozens of churches.
“I find myself sympathising hugely with Cardinal Zen on this and with others,” Lord Patten said in reference to the former bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has been sharply critical of the Sino-Vatican agreement.
Zen believes the Vatican’s rapprochement with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been wrong-headed from the get-go, insisting that Pope Francis is “naïve” in dealing with a country he knows little about.
“The pope doesn’t know much about China. And he may have some sympathy for the Communists, because in South America, the Communists are good guys, they suffer for social justice,” Zen said. “But not the [Chinese] Communists. They are persecutors.”
“The Vatican is helping the government, surrendering, giving everything into their hands,” Zen said.
Last December, Cardinal Zen said that Pope Francis’ policies in dealing with the CCP are “killing” the underground Church in that country.