Pope Francis: Not Fair to Call China ‘Undemocratic’

Pope Francis poses for a photo with a group of pilgrims from China during his weekly gener
Massimo Valicchia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

ROME — Pope Francis has rejected the label “undemocratic” to describe China’s communist regime, insisting that the issue is too complex to allow for such characterizations.

“I cannot get on board with calling China undemocratic; I won’t do that because it’s such a complex country,” the pontiff told journalists during his return trip from Kazakhstan to Rome Thursday. “Sure, there are things that seem undemocratic to us, that is true.”

“Labeling is difficult and I’m not ready to do that, since they are impressions, so instead I try to support the path of dialogue,” he declared.

“Understanding China takes a century, and we do not live for a century,” the pope said. “The Chinese mentality is a rich mentality, and when it gets a little sick, it loses its richness; it is capable of making mistakes.”

“In order to understand we have chosen the path of dialogue, open to dialogue,” he added.

Francis said that “the bilateral Vatican-Chinese commission is going well, slowly, because the Chinese pace is slow, they have an eternity to go forward: they are a people of endless patience,” partly in reference to the 2018 Sino-Vatican deal on the naming of bishops in the country, which is due for renewal next month.

“It is not easy to understand the Chinese mentality, but it should be respected, I always respect this,” he said. “And here in the Vatican, there is a dialogue commission that is going well, chaired by Cardinal Parolin and he is the person right now who knows the most about China and dialogue with the Chinese.”

“It is a slow process, but steps forward are always being made,” he added, reiterating his unflagging confidence in the power of dialogue.

“There are different cultures within China, it is a giant, and understanding China is an enormous thing,” the pope said. “But you need to be patient; it takes a lot, but we have to go with dialogue, I try to refrain from labeling it.”

Asked specifically about the arrest and upcoming trial of Cardinal Joseph Zen, the former bishop of Hong Kong, and if this constitutes a violation of religious freedom, the pope demurred.

Joseph Zen

Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun and Pope Francis ( ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

“Cardinal Zen will go to trial these days, I think,” he said. “And he says what he feels and you can see that there are some limitations there.”

Francis has often expressed his desire to visit China, most recently telling reporters during his flight to Kazakhstan Tuesday, “I am always ready to go to China.”


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