Cardinal Zen: Chinese Underground Church More and More ‘Abandoned’

Joseph Zen
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ROME — The redoubtable Cardinal Joseph Zen has once again denounced Vatican diplomacy with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), saying it has left the underground Catholic Church “more and more” abandoned.

In recent years, the underground community has been “considered inconvenient, almost as an obstacle to unity, while in the community officially recognized by the Government the ‘opportunists’ grow more and more numerous, fearless and defiant because encouraged by people inside and around the Vatican, intoxicated by their illusions of the Ostpolitik,” wrote the former bishop of Hong Kong in a letter dated March 10 but published Saturday.

In his “supplement” to an earlier online letter addressed to Vatican Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Cardinal Zen notes that his problem is not so much with Pope Francis as with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who “manipulates the Pope, at least in things regarding the Church in China.”

Zen has often said he believes Pope Francis to be “naïve” with regard to Chinese communism, which makes him vulnerable to manipulation both by his own advisers and by China’s leaders.

Although Cardinal Zen has been very critical of the Vatican’s 2018 deal with the CCP over the appointment of bishops in China, he notes in his new letter that that deal is not nearly as destructive as the “Pastoral Guidance” issued by the Vatican last June 28, which allows Catholic clerics to enlist in the state-run Catholic Patriotic Association.

In comparison, the pastoral guidance “is more blatantly evil, immoral, because it legitimizes a schismatic Church!” Zen writes.

There is “much confusion and contradiction” in that document, Zen asserts, since it allows Catholic priests to join a shadow church that is “independent” from Rome while Vatican officials insist that the word “independent” should no longer be understood to mean “absolutely independent.”

At the same time, however, those priests who choose to sign a document promising to join the independent Church must “make some protest (written or verbal, with or without a witness!?)” Zen notes, which contradicts the idea that there is nothing wrong with the Patriotic Association.

“How do you reconcile the signing of a document and the protesting that you don’t mean what you sign? You use the signature to cheat the Government? Or you use the protest to cheat the Church? But you can not cheat yourself!” Zen writes.

The cardinal asserts that the situation of the Chinese Church now is worse than it was 20 years ago, in part because of the intensified persecution of the Communist Party under President Xi Jinping, in part because of inept Vatican diplomacy.

“During the years around 2000 there was a real hope that we could soon reconstruct the unity of the Catholic Church in China,” Zen writes, which is unfortunately no longer the case.

The false “unity” lived by the Church in China today, Zen insists, is based on capitulation to the CCP by yielding partial authority in the naming of bishops, the rehabilitation of seven illegitimate, excommunicated bishops “without a visible sign of repentance for their incredibly defiant attitude in the past,” and the invitation for Catholic clergy to join the Patriotic Association “where the leaders of the old residents sing victory.”

“Is this the Catholic Church reunited? Only because the Pope has been made to believe that this is ‘the real thing’?” Zen asks.

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