Pope Francis Stands by Vatican Shift Away from Underground Church in China

Joseph Zen

Pope Francis has taken personal responsibility for recent measures taken by Vatican officials in China, which critics have described as a “sell-out” of the Catholic Church.

In a special statement Tuesday, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke responded on the Pope’s behalf to “widespread news on a presumed difference of thought and action between the Holy Father and his collaborators in the Roman Curia on issues relating to China.”

There is no such difference of thought and action, the Vatican declared.

“The Pope is in constant contact with his collaborators, in particular in the Secretariat of State, on Chinese issues, and is informed by them faithfully and in detail on the situation of the Catholic Church in China and on the steps in the dialogue in progress between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China, which he follows with special attention,” the statement reads.

“It is therefore surprising and regrettable that the contrary is affirmed by people in the Church, thus fostering confusion and controversy,” it concludes.

In other words, there may be controversy regarding the Vatican’s perceived abandonment of the underground Catholic Church in China, but there should be none regarding coordination between the pope and his diplomatic officials working in China.

As Breitbart News reported a week ago, Vatican officials recently asked two Chinese bishops faithful to Rome to “step aside” to be substituted by members of the collaborating Catholic Patriotic Association, which enjoys the patronage of Beijing.

The story first appeared in Asia News, the official outlet of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, which gives it particular credibility. In the report, John Baptist Lin stated that an unnamed “foreign prelate” from the Vatican had met with two Chinese bishops, Pietro Zhuang Jianjian of Shantou and Giuseppe Guo Xijin late last year and requested that the two cede their dioceses to illegitimate bishops, who had previously been excommunicated by Rome.

Last December 14, the Patriotic Association and the Chinese Council of Bishops issued a five-year plan aimed at “sinicizing” the Catholic Church. The plan requires that religions fall in line under the leadership of the Communist Party.

Ever since the election of President Xi Jinping, Beijing has sought greater control over the Catholic Church in China, insisting that bishops be named by the local Chinese Catholic community under the auspices of the Communist party. It has also refused to acknowledge the authority of the Pope in ecclesiastical decisions, claiming that as head of a foreign state, the Pope has no right to interfere in local matters.

The Catholic Church in China has been divided into underground and open communities since 1958, with the latter going by the title of the Patriotic Catholic Association, under the immediate control of the Communist party.

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.”

On Monday, China’s highest ranking Catholic prelate, Cardinal Joseph Zen, published an open letter to the media, accusing the Vatican of “selling out” the Church by caving in to demands of the Communist leaders.

Cardinal Zen said he was able to independently verify reports of Rome demanding that legitimate bishops yield their posts to Beijing-approved candidates. The problem, Zen wrote, “is not the resignation of the legitimate Bishops, but the request to make place for the illegitimate and even excommunicated ones.”

Zen said he was troubled by these reports and that he is “a pessimist regarding the present situation of the Church in China,” adding that his pessimism “has a foundation in my long direct experience of the Church in China.”

Recent information, he said, gives no cause to change that pessimistic view. “The Communist Government is making new harsher regulations limiting religious freedom. They are now strictly enforcing regulations which up to now were practically only on paper (from the 1st of February 2018 attendance to Mass in the underground will no longer be tolerated),” he said.

The 86-year-old cardinal has been a vocal critic of recent diplomatic efforts by the Vatican to curry the favor of Chinese communists. For years, members of the Chinese underground Church have suffered persecution for their faithfulness to Rome, and for their refusal to abandon the Church and join the Patriotic Association.

Last February, Zen urged Pope Francis not to make a deal with the Chinese government that would undermine the sacrifice and fidelity of the underground Catholic Church in the country.

“We are very much worried because it seems that the Vatican is going to make a very bad agreement with China,” the cardinal said at the time.

Pope Francis “is really naïve” and “doesn’t know the Chinese communists,” he said.

“So, do I think that the Vatican is selling out the Catholic Church in China?” Zen asked in his open letter Monday.

“Yes, definitely, if they go in the direction which is obvious from all what they are doing in recent years and months.”

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