China’s most outspoken Catholic Cardinal has sharply criticized a potential Vatican deal with China’s Communist Party that would cede some Church decision-making to the atheist government.
“You cannot go into negotiations with the mentality ‘we want to sign an agreement at any cost’, then you are surrendering yourself, you are betraying yourself, you are betraying Jesus Christ,” said Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, the former Bishop of Hong Kong and China’s highest ranking Catholic cleric.
Early on in the Francis pontificate, the Vatican showed signs of openness to work toward a diplomatic rapprochement with the Chinese government, something Cardinal Zen has resolutely opposed. Last year, Zen told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Vatican that the Vatican was being naïve in its dialogue with Beijing.
“Italians in the Roman Curia don’t know the Chinese dictatorship,” he said, “because they have never experienced a Communist regime.”
Those in Rome who are anxious to succeed at all costs are moving toward a compromise that is really an “unconditional surrender,” Zen lamented.
A better approach, the Cardinal suggested, would be “to encourage our persecuted in China to be brave.”
The 84-year-old Zen is hero to Chinese Catholics for his outspoken support of the underground Church and his willingness to stand up to the Communist leadership. He was bishop of Hong Kong from 2002 to 2009, and was made a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
Mao Zedong set up the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CCPA) as a state-run replacement for the Catholic Church, driving the Catholic Church underground through its systematic persecution of all who remained faithful to Rome and would not collaborate with the government.
Ever since 1958, the Catholic Church in China has been split into underground and open communities. A Vatican document of 1988 barred Roman Catholics from participating in the sacraments of the Patriotic Church, since the association “had broken all relationships with the pope” and would be “under the direct control of the government.”
Earlier this month, Zen told the Wall Street Journal that a deal between Rome and Beijing allowing the Communists to participate in the naming of bishops would constitute a “surrender.”
An agreement on Beijing’s terms would be a Pyrrhic victory for the Catholic Church, Zen suggested, with apparent immediate benefits but long-term harm for Christians.
With “fake freedom” under a proposed deal, priests could more easily preach and more churches would open, Zen said, but “it’s only the impression of freedom, it’s not real freedom, the people sooner or later will see the bishops are puppets of the government and not really the shepherds of the flock.”
Allowing Beijing to have a say in approving clergy and bishops would sacrifice church principles, demoralize the faithful, jeopardize evangelization and invite further repression, Zen said.
“Maybe the pope is a little naive, he doesn’t have the background to know the Communists in China,” Zen said recently. “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.”
The Cardinal added that “the clergy need to side with the people, the poor and the persecuted, not with government.”
According to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), the Chinese government “continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of religious freedom.” When the commission released its 2016 Annual Report, it once again recommended that China be designated as a “country of particular concern,” based on what it termed “systematic, egregious, ongoing abuses.”
“The Chinese Communist Party officially is atheist and took steps in 2015 to ensure that Party members reject religion or belief,” the report stated.
Throughout the year 2015, Chinese authorities used the pretext of building code violations to target houses of worship, particularly churches, as illegal structures, the report added. “By some estimates, the number of cross removals and church demolitions totaled at least 1,500, and many who opposed these acts were arrested.”
Chinese authorities “continued to summon, question, detain, and even arrest clergy and parishioners of unregistered house churches,” the report stated.
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